Carmel Armstrong can recall “crying her eyes out” with joy as she watched a group of teens with Down’s syndrome competing in a dragon boat race and chanting “friendship first, losing second” in late September. The chief operating officer of Love 21 Foundation, a charity committed to empowering the Down’s syndrome and autistic communities, described it as “the second best day since her daughter was born”. “I was so proud to be a part of that and how much ability they had,” she said. “[From being] frightened of water, never having been on a boat, and within the six-week training programme, being able to race in the middle of open water. Phenomenal.” But despite their potential and capabilities, those same teens often face rejection or end up saddled with mundane tasks when seeking jobs. Armstrong said it was mainly caused by the public’s perception they were not capable or did not have the ability to work. “It’s very difficult for them to get an interview. When they do get an interview, when they walk into the room, people react. [Employers] are not as comfortable as they would be [with other people],” she said. “Often our members will tell me about work placements where they are just packing boxes. They are doing something that’s very repetitive, not particularly meaningful.” It prompted Armstrong and Jeff Rotmeyer, the founder of the charity, to launch the “Love 21 Employment Training and Development Programme” in a bid to prepare the young adults for the workforce. The programme will be financed by Operation Santa Claus (OSC), an annual charity fundraising drive jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and public broadcaster RTHK since 1988. Established in 2017, the Love 21 Foundation aims to prolong the lives of young adults with Down’s syndrome or autism by providing sports, nutrition, and support programmes free of charge. It has also been increasing the awareness of the general public through volunteer activities and corporate social responsibility programmes. The employment project will recruit six participants aged 18 or above every three months for a year and train them for four quarters. They will learn to be receptionists, teaching assistants, nutritionist assistants and mentors to new members in the four stages respectively, while receiving stipends for working eight hours a week. Training such as CV writing and job interview skills will also be provided. By the end of the programme, the charity expects to set up a social enterprise that can hire the participants or assist them in securing outside jobs. Armstrong said she hoped the project would help young adults develop a sense of pride and purpose, while becoming more independent and ready for the outside world. “A lot of our parents here are single parents. Some of them can’t work because of the disabilities of their children,” she said. “Their biggest concern is what happens when they pass away and who will look after their children. If their children are already able to show that they are able to earn some money, that takes a huge amount of anxiety away.” Armstrong said their members deserved more opportunities when it came to job hunting. “They love people, they love being with people, they love interacting with people, so why can’t they find work that allows them to do that?” she said.