What happens when local organizations come together to accomplish a common goal? Teens with disabilities benefit. Thanks to two out-of-the-box-thinking school districts and a collaborative spirit from local disability organizations, local teens now have real, hands-on experience – experience that will help them find jobs after graduation and into adulthood.
Summit DD, Koinonia and United Disability Services (UDS) collaborated to pilot a transition services program for teens with disabilities. The organizations worked with Copley/Fairlawn and Woodridge schools to prepare young adults for the professional world after graduation. One year in, the program appears to be a tremendous success.
“We have seen the perspective of parents and school staff broaden to foresee other options for their student beyond that of a sheltered workshop after high school,” shared Kristen Campagnano, Community Employment Manager for UDS. “Some parents have expressed surprise to learn about the work their son or daughter is doing at the employer sites. Some parents now see work as an option for their child, where they may not have before this experience.”
During the pilot, 22 students learned about available opportunities and determined which jobs might be a good fit for them. They participated in volunteer opportunities and internships. During these hands-on experiences, students had the benefit of job coaching. This helped the teens acclimate to the jobs while building marketable skills and experience. In total, the students covered approximately 300 community-based work experiences, and over 400 hours at more than a dozen sites. Some community partners include: Continuing Healthcare Solutions, Drug Mart, Fun ‘n’ Stuff, Giant Eagle of Portage Crossing, Goodwill of Tallmadge, and Legend Lanes.
“We know that this is an important age for growth in a young person’s life,” expressed Summit DD superintendent, John Trunk. “We want to help provide the tools and resources to set these teens up for success in the future.”
“They made my job easy,” shared Koinonia Community Instructor, Phil Gibson who worked with the students at each of the job sites. “I work with a great group of kids – I love them.”
The pilot program will now extend into next school year, and Summit DD, Copley/Fairlawn Schools, Woodridge Schools, Koinonia and UDS are looking forward to the final year of the pilot program. They hope to take what they have learned from the pilot program and use it to develop new program locations.
“It’s our goal to build and sustain this program throughout Summit County,” shared Trunk. “Alongside local schools, we can help create inclusive opportunities for students in their own communities.”