Inclusive workforce preparation offers win-win

Connecting with transition coordinator yields success for youth with disabilities and MSU Extension staff in Berrien County.

Every now and then, we have a programming experience through our work with Michigan State University (MSU) Extension that makes you say “WOW” and becomes a memorable experience for all. April 11 – 17, 2014 has become just that for this veteran staff member.

Recently, I have been fostering a new relationship and collaboration with the transition staff at Berrien Regional Education Service Agency (RESA). Transition coordinators work with students with disabilities on transition planning. Berrien RESA explains that “transition planning is the process in which students with disabilities work with their family, school, post-school service personnel, community agencies and employers to develop a plan which will help them adjust to their next step in life. Students typically start the process at age 16.”

The plan addresses the key areas of a student’s life including:

  • Post-secondary education/training. What additional education or training does the student want to pursue after high school?
  • Career/employment. What kind of work does the student want to do after they finish high school?
  • Adult living. Where does the student want to live as an adult? What does the student need to be independent?
  • Community participation. What activities and hobbies does the student want to do as an adult?

From discussions with my new partners over the past several months, we had identified that clients preparing their transition plans could benefit from workforce preparation programming and support from community organizations such as MSU Extension. To be successful, I spent time with Sandy Asmus, one of the transition coordinators, and Buzz Calvert, retired career and techinical education consultant, to review and adapt our MSU Extension 4-H career preparation resources. We reviewed and revised PowerPoint presentations and I was given teaching tips to be most effective with cognitively and emotionally impaired young people. I also used communication and presentation tips from the Skills to Pay the Bills curriculum.

During the week of April 11, I had the unique experience of teaching 20 wonderful teenagers at Lighthouse Education Center about completing a job application, resumes and interview skills. The center is located in in Stevensville, Michigan and works with cognitively and emotionally impaired youth. When we completed the interview skills presentation, all 20 youth were able to demonstrate the business handshake, introduce themselves, explain what a resume was and the different types, as well explain the types of information you put on a job application.

This experience taught me as much as it taught the students. Want to learn more? I am willing to talk further with staff and volunteers about partnering with their local transition staff in an effort to bring 4-H and MSU Extension programming to more youth with disabilities. For now, I look forward to a similar experience in May with Southside School in Niles, Michigan, when I will again share the hands-on experiential learning approach of 4-H with youth in transition.

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