As a teenager, what did you dream about doing when you grew up? Perhaps more importantly, how many times did you try something and then change your mind? These ever-changing dreams led you to try new experiences. Teens with developmental disabilities need the same opportunities to dream, try or change their minds along their journey to adulthood as their typically developing peers. Thanks to an Ohio program, to date more than 1,200 Ohio youth with disabilities from 36 counties have participated in a program which enables them to explore and determine their own future.
The Bridges to Transition program is a Vocational Rehabilitation Public Private Partnership (VRP3) between county DD Boards and the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission (RSC). The program was created to allow young adults, ages 14-22, who are eligible for both Board services and RSC services to explore career options. County Boards, such as, Summit DD, match federal funds for the Bridges program which support these transitioning youth in career exploration. The Ohio Association of County Boards (OACB) provides statewide management for the program, but encourages each participating Board to develop and tailor its program to echo local preferences.
“Bridges to Transition accomplishes many things during these important transition years,” stated Director of Community Employment, Carrie Roberts. “Two of which are the program’s focus on students’ strengths and individual choice. By trying employment while still in high school, participants have time to decide what they are interested in, develop skills, and prepare for success and independence.”
How does the program work?
The program works in stages. The first year, students receive exposure through a combination of classroom instruction and company visits. These rotations take place over summer break and usually last about six weeks. Year two in the program, students have the opportunity to try a paid work experience through one of the participating community providers, such as Hattie Larlham or United Disability Services (UDS). The third year students begin the job development process. The program’s vocational rehabilitation coordinators work with local schools and families to connect students with community employers. Integrated employment opportunities include shadowing, individual, and group or other exploratory activities.
Hattie Larlham’s Vice President, Vocational and Enterprise Services, Dotty Grexa thinks highly of the program. “Partnering with Summit DD has been a great experience. We are impacting the lives of transitional youth in our community in a meaningful way, preparing them for their careers in the local community,” she remarked. “The ultimate achievement is when a participant is placed in a competitive job in the local area.”
Why is Bridges to Transition so important?
“Since joining the Bridges program in May 2011, 48 students have gained valuable community-based work experience that will help prepare them for a lifetime of employment in the community,” Roberts further explained. “The collaboration among local school districts, RSC, employers and Summit DD benefits all of Summit County’s residents.”
The Bridges to Transition program assists teens in the discovery and exploration of vocational talents. The benefits of integrated employment for students include independence, better health, financial support, personal and professional growth, and better quality of life. Developing comprehensive skill sets can increase employment opportunities for youth with developmental disabilities. Above all, identifying strengths and choosing their own path should be a rite of passage for all students, with or without disabilities.