Summer program promotes employment for youth with developmental disabilities.

Pictured left to right are (back) Emily Clary, Jacob Bowens, Zac Guelsdorf, Jakob Geiger, Maddie Call, Andrew Taylor, Josh Clary and Ben Barlow; (front) Lindsay Hunt, Alexis Schriner and Brooklyn Peters

LOGAN- Finding employment in today’s economy is no easy task, and for those with developmental disabilities the challenge can be even greater. The Employment Connection, which works under the Hocking County Board of Developmental Disabilities, is there to help.

Established in 2009, TEC operates in Hocking, Perry and Fairfield counties and opened their doors in Logan in 2010. It has since been providing support to individuals with developmental disabilities in the community.

“We are completely employment focused, so everything we do with all of our individuals that we work with is based on community employment, eventually,” said Angela Kidwell, job developer at TEC.

The program is designed to assist citizens in the community who need a little more help than others to prepare for, and eventually find, employment. TEC recently wrapped up its summer program in which a group of high school students with developmental disabilities was able to participate in the Summer Youth Employment Program.

According to TEC, summer youth work experiences are utilized to help teach high school students vocational skills and appropriate work behaviors through career exploration and work experiences. The goal of the program is to prepare the individual for permanent employment and independence.

TEC offered a five-week program for these young men and women during the summer to teach them work skills and to help them develop a work history. During the first week the students are in a classroom learning what Kidwell refers to as soft skills.

“Soft skills would be [skills] for a job, so it could be getting to work on time, or from getting to work on time to how to get to work on time, setting an alarm, having a schedule,” Kidwell listed, in addition to other skills that some take for granted.

In the class they discuss everything from personal adjustment issues such as work behavior, inter-personal skills, and hygiene to interview skills, job applications and mock interviews.

During the second week, the students had the opportunity to use their knowledge when they were asked to help set up for this year’s Lilyfest, where they cleaned trails and painted.

The third week saw the group split into smaller teams to gain experience in the different establishments in Logan. TEC collaborates with different business in town such as Pizza Crossing, North Fitness Center, and this year Maya Burrito Co. to work with the actual employees and undergo situations that they would face in an actual employment situation.

The fourth week was spent cleaning and painting at the Elks Lodge in Nelsonville, and for their final week the students worked at the Hocking County Welcome Center, weeding, folding brochures, and any other task that they could think to do.

During the time that the students are working, they are paid a minimum wage through TEC.

“The funding for Bridges to Transition, which is our ages 14-22, is from Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities,” said Sue Schmitter-Motta, executive director for TEC. The grant enables TEC to pay the students as well as providing those employment services to the young adults. The support is not limited to the summer program, and transition specialists are available to the high school students involved with TEC year round.

According to Schmitter-Motta, the average cost for each to complete the program is four to five thousand dollars, depending on how many years a student is involved.

“Some people don’t need as much, and other people need more depending on their skill level, their need for work site accommodations,” said Schmitter-Motta.

Throughout the Summer Youth Employment Program, however, Transition Specialist Sheila Hall was on hand to assist the students with any problems or questions that they might have. With patience, support and tough love, Hall pushed them to do the best job that they can do.

“There’s no pity here, because you can do this job and I don’t want to hear it,” said Hall. “If there is an accommodation to be made, like if we have someone that can’t hold something very well because of their hand or something, well let’s figure it out- what do we need to do?”

Hall is a firm believer that the best way to promote the independence of her students is to encourage them to problem solve on their own. By leading them through the process and helping them find their own solutions, they are better prepared to face challenges where they might not have someone there to help them.

“You just feel like a proud mama,” Hall said with a huge smile, “You can’t help it, to be proud when they’re doing stuff. It’s just like you get happy because they’re being the best they can be, they’re reaching those milestones and those goals.”

Both Hall and Kidwell consider this past summer youth program to be incredibly successful. Four of the students were offered positions with Maya Burrito Co.

“It was amazing,” said Hall. “That was not the purpose, the purpose was to get them the skills and training, and that was just a bonus that [Jose Martinez of Maya Burrito Co.] saw the qualities there that made him say ‘I want that person working here.’”

For more information about TEC, please visit their website at www.tecohio.org.

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