Summer Youth Work Experience helps developmentally disabled

By Heather Meade hmeade@civitasmedia.com

July 23, 2014

DARKE COUNTY - The Darke County Board of Developmental Disabilities has several programs for older children to help transition to adulthood, one such program, Bridges to Transition, helps young adults, ages 14 to 21, learn more about having a job, and helping to provide work experience, said Beth Jennings, coordinator for the program.

“We are providing vocational education and work skills training,” Jennings commented.

Right now, they’re providing group work opportunities at partner locations throughout Darke County, she said. Students who are eligible for the program are placed at one of the partnering agencies, Spirit Medical Transport, Walgreen’s or Anthony Wayne Early Childhood Center, and a fourth group rotates between FISH Choice Pantry, Worch Memorial Library, Arcanum Public Library and Stillwater Golf Course, Jennings noted. In the past, they have worked with the Brethren’s Retirement Community and Brumbaugh Fruit Farm, she added.

Students begin by learning what work is, how to apply for a job, where to find references, and soft skills such as time management and personal hygiene before they’re sent to a work site for 20 hours each week for four weeks, Jennings commented.

“All of our sites welcome the students, and they expect them to do work like a regular employee would,” Jennings said. “We provide a job coach to each group, to provide guidance and support for the students while they’re working. Students are also paid an hourly wage, so money management comes into play with the educational component, too, with that paycheck.”

They also try to help teach independent living skills, such as nutrition, personal hygiene, and time management, Jennings said. While on the job, students are performing basic, entry level tasks such as folding linens, stocking shelves, cleaning, and assisting customers, she added.

“These are basic work skills that could translate to any entry level job,” Jennings stated. “It’s important, as it provides students with an idea of what work is; many times, they don’t get those experiences because they’re working so hard on academics, or physical well-being…there are a lot of other things that might take precedence.”

Many developmentally disabled students lack an idea of what they “want to do when they grow up,” Jennings said, because they’re experiential learners; they learn from doing. By being in a job placement, these students learn what they might want to do, or what they’re sure they don’t want to do, Jennings noted.

“Being experiential learners, additional opportunities outside of the classroom will help these students to develop skills to make them more employable,” Jennings added.

Bridges to Transition and the Summer Youth Work Experience are helping to bridge the gap between developmentally disabled students and their futures; to learn more, visit www.darkedd.org or call Beth Jennings, Bridges to Transition coordinator, at 937-548-9057 ext. 3018, or email elizabeth.jennings@rsc.ohio.gov.