Written by: Fran Davidson, Member of The Arc Arapahoe & Douglas Counties
Will My Kids Ever Have Jobs or Be Productive Members of Society?
Part 2: Vocational Challenges Beyond School Years
COUNTY JOB WORKS PROGRAM
While gleaning all we could from school vocational programs, our next step was a program for at-risk teens. Non-profit organizations could get a summer volunteer and the county would pay a small wage to the teen. Cassie had opportunities for several summers to work as a helper in a summer recreation program, Humane Society, Doggie Day Care, and others. Each job required me to do a lot of transporting her, but we felt that it was well worth the work experience she received and her chance to receive her first pay checks.
We contacted the manager of a local pizza restaurant, a business connection of my husband’s, who agreed to give Cassie a summer job setting up the salad bar. It was three miles away and Cassie was able to ride her bike to and from the restaurant to help with their lunch business. At first, I rode with her to help her learn the way. Then she rode on her own – she loved this independence!
FOLLOW YOUR CHILD’S INTERESTS
Cassie loves animals so I talked to our vet to see if she could shadow an employee at the clinic. Cassie loved it but we learned that it wasn’t a good fit. Cassie’s loud voice and enthusiasm were not “calming” to the animals, owners, employees or customers. Cross that idea off of our list!
At age 16, I took Tammy to our local grocery store and filled out a job application for her. I took her to interviews, drug testing, and computer testing. To our surprise, she was offered a part-time job. I view the job of bagging groceries and collecting carts as a job designed for ADD teenage boys. The bagging job is always close to a checker who can give close supervision. Since telling time is not an ability either girl has, we got Tammy a watch so that she could plan for 15/30 minute breaks for mid-shift and lunch.
During the first few years, Tammy was dissatisfied with her job because it was not “cool” like working in a retail clothing shop. However, with limited math skills, most retailers would not hire someone who could not be a cashier. We spent many hours trying to help her understand this. With much help from us and a job coach, that part-time job eventually turned into a full-time job after high school. She is now very happy there and has quite a group of devoted customers. Tammy is extremely social and what other job allows the employee to chat 8 hours a day? She has been continuously employed there for over 16 years!!!!
Cassie’s employment journey has not been nearly as easy as Tammy’s. Her job coach in high school helped her fill out many applications but nothing materialized. We mentioned our frustrations to the then President of Colorado Special Olympics. He offered to contact a local businessman on the board. Soon after, I received a phone call from that man. When he asked Cassie’s name, he exclaimed, “CASSIE! CASSIE, the gymnast!?” He had met Cassie during Winter Games when he was handing out medals and she was competing in skiing. Her loud and outgoing personality made an impression on him. He told me, “Of course, I can find a place for Cassie!” We were thrilled, even though it would be at a gas station convenience store. This is another lesson that I have learned along the way – to adjust my expectations. I never thought that I would want my daughter to work at a gas station.
That job worked out well for her. It was just a mile from our house so she could walk to and from work. However, during the next 5 years, Cassie worked under 10 different managers. Even with help from several job coaches, she was unable to learn how to please the different expectations of each manager. As we did not see this resolving, Neal suggested we look into a special needs/vocational college in New Mexico that we learned about from other Special Olympics parents.
This had never been in our thoughts for Cassie. However, within a month, we applied, were accepted, and packed Cassie up to drive to Eastern New Mexico University in Roswell for orientation. This was a HUGE step for all of us but we felt that God was leading us in it so clearly. As a parent of a child who needs so much extra help, the idea of not having daily input was incredibly scary to me. It was also a very difficult challenge for Cassie to be away from home and to have to learn to rely on others instead of her parents. While she was there, she learned independent living skills such as how to clean her room and bathroom and to care for her own needs. We chose the Food Service one-year program for her because that seemed to hold the most promise for future employment. She worked on job skills, bus skills and social skills. It was a crash course for her, but so important in her development.
DEPARTMENT OF VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION (DVR)
DVR is a state agency that can fund and supply job coaches to help find and support employment. They can be a huge help.
It is extremely difficult as a mom, who cares and knows her daughter so well, to be impartial and not too emotional in seeking, applying, interviewing, training, etc. I have tried unsuccessfully many times with Cassie. Job coaches are trained especially in what to say and what not to say on applications, computer testing, and in interviews. They can even role play interview situations with applicants. Job coaches are invaluable!!! Coaches are usually provided through school up through age 21 and then through your local community center board and/or DVR.
I contacted them when Cassie returned home after college. They filled out applications and did interviews with her and found her a job at a soup and salad restaurant. It was on the bus route so Cassie was able to utilize her new bus skills. This was a fun job but the manager changed from being encouraging and supportive to impatient and rude. Next, DVR helped her to find a job at a fast food restaurant, just a mile from home. Again, I had to drop my dreams and desires and thank God for a job. She had 2 extremely patient and encouraging managers. However, the third one just did not know how to work with Cassie, me, or the job coach. She did not want any help and would not allow the coach to even be in the area where Cassie was working. Sooooo, back to the drawing board….
With DVR’s help, we interviewed many job coaches and let Cassie choose the one she liked best. He worked with Cassie filling out applications, role playing interviews, and delivering applications to prospective job sites near our home and on the bus route I suggested. He even went on the interviews with her and landed her a job at a small produce market as a bagger and cart collector.
Since we wanted to ensure that this new job would provide enough hours, Cassie did not immediately quit her fast food job. With much coaching and repetition from us NOT to tell them that she was quitting :-), she successfully worked both jobs for over 6 months. As long as we did not tell her that she was working 10 days straight, she was fine. She thrives on structure and predictability. Once she got her weeks’ schedules, she just buckled down and went to each job on the appropriate days. The new job seems to be a great fit for Cassie and a few months ago she quit her fast food job. She now works about 20 hours per week there.
Like her sister, Cassie thrives on social interaction. Her new job also allows her to be social while she bags. The fast food manager tried to squelch Cassie’s socializing by assigning her to dishwashing in the back away from the customers. The produce market seems to appreciate Cassie’s desire to connect and be friendly. Her store is in our neighborhood (and on the bus route) where many of our neighbors and friends from church, schools, tennis and our recreation center do their shopping. Neal visited Cassie at work soon after she started and met one of her supervisors, who exclaimed, “CASSIE KNOWS EVERYONE! I HAVE BEEN HERE SINCE THE STORE OPENED AND I DON’T KNOW ANYONE!”
We are praising God that both girls are stable and happy in their employment now and glad to share whatever we have learned along the way!
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