Anna Joerns, center, was one of the student guest speakers during the Employing Adults with Barriers discussion, at the Hodag Lanes Banquet Center Thursday, March 8. Joerns shared her experience going through the Rhinelander High School Transition Services program. After completing the program, she was employed by Dandy Dog and has been with the local pet grooming business for approximately one year.
3/10/2018 7:29:00 AM Breaking through barriers Community shares ideas during Adults with Barriers program
Kayla Breese Feature Writer
People from various aspects of the community came together Thursday to network, gain ideas and help those with disabilities during the Employing Adults with Barriers program, held at the Hodag Lanes Banquet Center.
Roughly 50 people attended the event, in which they listened to success stories from two students who went through the Rhinelander High School Transition Services program and found jobs they enjoy immensely.
Later, those participating in the event broke into groups where they discussed creating relationships and broadening their local networks, voiced their viewpoints and gained new perspectives, learned about the resources in the community that support families and helped businesses successfully hire individuals with disabilities, identified strategies that may be able to help youth unemployment, and recognize the roles in helping solve the issue.
They were also given two questions to ponder - what can the community do to better prepare youth with disabilities and other barriers to enter the workforce and what can each individual do in the next two or three months to help youth with disabilities and those who are disadvantaged to get jobs?
Shelley Lehman, special education teacher at RHS and facilitator of the event, was contacted by a representative the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities last autumn. The two are working on a promise grant, part of which stipulated they must hold community conversations around the state.
"One thing that's just wonderful about bringing people together from all areas of our community is just bringing fresh ideas," she said.
Lehman said it is important to have a connection with the community and that the school has a transition plan for students to help them find employment after graduation.
"We work with businesses, for example we have a two-hour work experience class where we match students to what their job and career interests are at a business in the area and then we go with them, provide a job coach and do work within the business to help teach them some job skills, employability soft skills," she explained.
As a student gets more comfortable with the job, the job coach will stand back more as the student becomes more independent.
The program also allows students to get a feel for the job to see if a particular occupation is something they want to continue with or to learn it isn't quite for them.
Overall, Lehman said she has heard beaming comments from students and business who have participated in the program.
"We have some really strong business partnerships that we put our students at for work experiences and it's been so positive," Lehman said.
Morgan Melton, a student and guest speaker at the event, has been working at Rennes for four months. She serves the residents food and makes them happy.
"I like working with the residents, they actually make me happy, they make me laugh so much," she said with a grin, adding she hopes that employers realize they can hire special needs individuals.
The other student guest speaker, Anna Joerns, has been employed as a pet groomer by Dandy Dogs for a year.
"I had an internship there and they hired me right on," she explained.
Joerns said she was nervous in the beginning, but learned how to communicate with the customers and their pets, and now feels more at ease.
The transition program through the school and the process to gaining employment has been a rewarding experience.
"It helps me a lot, (I'm) learning new things every day. It's kinda cool," Joerns said.
George Allen, store manager for Habitat for Humanity ReStore, has worked with the school and students in the Rhinelander High School Transition Services program, but attended the event to learn more.
"I see these kids that have been working with us all the time and they come up to me and they thank me, they say, 'It was the most fantastic experience that I've had,'" he said, adding "It's such a good program to give them a sense of what the workforce is like."
After the event Allen said he ran into another attendee, and they discussed what they could do to help and how they could use the information that was presented.
"It was very informative, it isn't what I was expecting, but I'm glad that I went," Allen said.
He hopes that other employers consider the program and working with the students.
"It's an excellent experience for the kids that are coming in," he said.
Allen said he advises that an employer should make sure they have the time to spend with the students and work with them.
"I just hope that the other business leaders, that if they do take some of these kids or young adults under their wing just work with them and you're going to find that these are fantastic kids to work with," Allen said.
If any businesses are interested in working with students in the Rhinelander High School Transition Services program they can contact Lehman at 715-365-9500 ext. 8135 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kayla Breese may be reached at email@example.com.
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