North Texas theater benefiting from employing students with special needs

A North Texas movie theater is doing more than just providing entertainment. The Studio Movie Grill in The Colony is providing jobs to students with special needs.

The theater’s manager is quick to point out what he is doing is just as big of a benefit to the company, as it is for the young adults who are learning lifelong skills.

Stephen Mentesana is autistic, and at 22 years old, he is about to graduate from Lewisville ISD’s program for students with special needs.

Fortunately, he already has three years of job experience at Studio Movie Grill.

“As soon as he clocks in, his favorite thing to do is fill up the ice bins,” said Mike Dingess, general manager of Studio Movie Grill. “Which is no one’s favorite thing to do.”

“I usually clean the tables,” Mentesana added.

He is aging out of the LISD Focus on the Future program, but his boss plans to keep him on.

“Reliable, he is always here every Tuesday and Thursday. Very proactive, very proactive,” Dingess said.

Dingess says many of the LISD students with special needs he has hired have stayed with the company, even after they age out of the program.

“We are having good kids brought to us without having to search,” he added.

“[I] give waters, sodas, lemonades, popcorn to people and say thank you to them,” student employee Matthew Ly said.

Dingess says Ly is another exemplary worker.

“He brings such a great attitude,” Dingess said. “It would be awesome if all 15 to 25 [year olds] acted like that.”

Mentesana’s mother says her hope is that Stephen gains the skills he needs for independent living.

“As job coach was weaned away, I was very nervous. Was he doing what he needed to do?” said Sharon Mentesana.

Turns out, she had no reason to worry.

“Stephen makes me a proud mama,” she said.