A perfect combination

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Job fair aims to link special needs students to the right employers

By Dawn Pearson

Carmel High School student Nick Wimmer has always dealt with social issues and had trouble communicating. Which isn’t surprising given that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.

His parents, Barb Wimmer and Allan Wimmer, have long sought to help their 18-year-old son overcome his struggles with social interactions and communication. Even for someone as high-functioning as their son, life after high school certainly loomed large on the horizon.

But thanks to an outreach program at CHS, Nick has already found a job.

“It has been great. Nick works at (Carmel sandwich shop) Which Wich 25 hours a week and a couple mornings at Best Friend’s Pet Care, both he got through the school and VITAL 4. He is also volunteering at TherAplay,” Barb Wimmer said. “It’s been a really important and beneficial year for Nick, he’s getting experiences at different work settings, and has been able to try some different things out to see what he enjoys and is good at.”

Kellie Freeman, Transition Coordinator for Carmel Clay Schools Special Services

Kellie Freeman, Transition Coordinator for Carmel Clay Schools Special Services

“VITAL 4 is an off campus program where those kids get real life training on what we all do outside of school, regarding transportation, how do they get to work, recreation, what can they do and enjoy outside of work, and there’s parent education part involved too,” said Kellie Freeman, Transition Coordinator for Carmel Clay Schools Special Services.

“It’s a huge blessing and a great program for Nick,” Barb Wimmer said. “He gets great feedback, and they are pleased to have him, and it’s great for his self-esteem.”

Connecting students and employers

To help students with special needs make the jump to the real world, Carmel Clay Schools plans to host a job fair that will bring together agencies, businesses and colleges that provide services to students with disabilities.

The fair will be conducted from 6 to 8 p.m. March 6 at Carmel High School, and people attending are asked to use entrances 7, 8 and 9.

Freeman said, “This event brings together agencies that provide services to individuals with a disability who will one day enter the adult world to work, play, attend college or live with or without support. This fair brings the agencies, businesses and schools that provide services to families with children with special needs after the student has left school.”

The fair is about what happens to the students when they move to the real world, since special needs students typically aren’t on a diploma track.

“Most of our students won’t be receiving a diploma, they will be receiving a Certification of Completion when they leave us,” Freeman said. “They have each had a job coach who helps them get the job, helps train them, and then the coach fades away and they keep working.”

“The reason our fair is such a success is because part of what I do is to work with families. So they know when the student leaves the school setting, if they don’t have the services and support in place, that child will sit at home and do nothing,” Freeman said.

And Carmel has one of the few special services programs that really seek jobs that will pay the students in hopes the student retains the job when school ends.

“If a student is working some place and they are successful, why would we yank that job  when they leave school?” Freeman said.

It’s worth every minute

Larry Johnson, the manager of the Carmel Dairy Queen has been hiring and training special needs students for 18 years and has enjoyed every minute of it.

“Oh I love them. They are wonderful kids,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of training, but it’s worth every minute of it. The quality of an employee you get with their dedication, they are always on time, very outgoing, eager to learn and you can count on long-term employment.”

And the students often teach as much as they learn.

“I take the kids as they come in the store. The last three would hardly even speak and they were afraid to speak, and to see them turnaround is the most rewarding thing to me in any of my work,” Johnson said. “They want to learn but they’ve never been allowed to learn in a real life setting, never been exposed to a real life work situation, and people said they can’t learn to run a cash register, for instance, but let me tell you they can.”

Johnson looks forward to continue working with them and said it’s probably been more rewarding for him and his store than for that child and their education.

“It takes training and love, from my heart, and what I get back is worth more then I can make,” he said.

What’s best for our students

Caitie Vaughn is one of Johnson’s success stories. Her favorite thing about the job is her co-workers.

Johnson said, “She’s respected and treated as an individual. She loves it.”

Freeman said that the managers need to be “honest and real” like Johnson has been over the years.

“We need managers to tell us if a student isn’t working out, we need them to be honest and it may seem like they are the bad guys, but they aren’t,” she said. “It’s what’s best for our students.”

“If people in the workplace are not aware of what they can do to support and nurture co-workers with special needs, the transition into working life could be tougher than it needs to be for the young adult,” Freeman said. “With education, the same co-workers and bosses could help that transition and enable our students to flourish.”

Interested in participating?

The Transition Fair brings together agencies that provide services to families with children with special needs. Agencies like Outside the Box, Opportunities for Positive Growth, Bona Vista, Noble of Indiana, Janus Developmental Center and many more. For more information about participating contact Kellie Freeman at kfreeman@ccs.k12.in.us and put “Fair 2014” in the subject line. “We try to place our students in a job that they want to work in and not always in the ‘typical’ type of job that most programs have. Some students want to work at a restaurant or in food service, but we try to find jobs in all areas,” Freeman said.

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