[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image media=”87218″ media_width_percent=”100″][vc_column_text]As juniors and seniors finish their journey as high school students, many begin exploring careers to pursue as adults. However, for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the prospect of building a career can be daunting. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than twice the rate for people without disabilities, and people with disabilities often lack the support to seek jobs and advocate for themselves with potential employers.
Skills of Central PA’s Summer Employment Program is designed to address this problem and help students with disabilities make the challenging transition from school to work. Skills combines hands on learning with a curriculum that covers everything from how to look for a job to how to complete assigned tasks at work, and everything in between. The program also focuses on teaching students how to advocate for themselves. Skills’ Employment Services Manager, Cristy Rachau, who has led the program every year since it started in 2019, says that learning self-advocacy has a huge impact on helping students with disabilities succeed at work. “Getting the kids to think about themselves and their abilities is key. It helps them learn what accommodations they need, and how to ask for them,” Rachau emphasized.
Most days in Skills’ Summer Employment Program start at 9 am with a walk around Lycoming College campus. The rest of the days are a balance between workshops on job and self-advocacy skills, and fun, hands-on outings to work on practical and social skills. All of which are designed specifically for the group of 8 to 10 students who attend the program most days. As Rachau says, “The way the program flows depends on the group we have each day; what their interests are, what their strengths are, and what they want to work on.”
On most Tuesdays and Thursdays, staff and students go on field trips to places like the Williamsport Community Arts Center and The Taber Museum. On Wednesdays, students visit and learn how to use the public library. And Fridays are fun days, where students participate at therapeutic drumming circles at the YMCA in the morning, and watch a movie in the afternoon.
“The program is just a really great way for the kids to learn skills that they’re going to use for the rest of their lives,” says Rachau. “They learn to ride the city bus, they learn to use the library. They also learn where the Career Link is and what services they offer. Same with the Center for Independent Living, the Joinder, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Those are all services that they are going to need throughout their lives.”
It’s also a great way for the students who attend to make friends, and practice social skills. In the 2021 and 2022 programs, many of the attendees had been fairly isolated while quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One student went from only communicating via a thumbs ups or thumbs downs, to singing a whole song, word for word, on the last drumming session at the YMCA, Rachau shares. Last year, a young man started the program preferring to keep to himself, but by the last day, Cristy says, “he was up and moving, dancing, smiling. His dad came to watch, and he was almost in tears because his son was so much more involved than he had been before.”
The Summer Employment Program runs from 9 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday, in July and August. Each day starts with a new topic so families don’t have to worry about scheduling conflicts with summer vacations or other activities. “Every day is a new day and every day starts fresh, so if someone can only come three days a week, or has to miss a couple weeks for a vacation, that’s no problem. We can work around anyone’s schedule,” Rachau says. The program is funded by the county, so there’s no cost to families.
In order to be eligible for the program, students need to be between ages 14 and 21, must be transitioning out of high school, and need to have a case open with the Lycoming-Clinton Joinder office.
Because the process of opening a case can take a while, Rachau recommends that parents reach out soon so that she can walk them through the process of getting a child involved in Skills’ Summer Employment Program. Cristy Rachau can be contacted at 814.554.3655 extension 4113, or at email@example.com.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_percent=”100″ shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_button button_color=”accent” size=”btn-lg” border_width=”0″ link=”url:http%3A%2F%2Fwww.skillsofcentralpa.org%2Fcontact”]Contact Us to Learn More About Employment Services[/vc_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]