COVID-19 didn’t stop young people from gaining work experience this summer.
COVID-19 has shifted plans and turned things upside down over the last six months.
But with some precautions and flexibility, Summer Youth Work Experiences were able to continue in Ohio.
Organized by Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), the program allows students ages 14 to 21 who have a disability the opportunity to explore careers and gain on-the-job training.
Like previous summers, students interested in the program had two options. Career exploration, which is geared toward younger students, gave them the opportunity to do virtual job site tours, remote informational interviews, interactive exercises, work inventories and discussions. The students received a training stipend.
Older students had the opportunity to participate in a work experience and were assigned a work site based on their interest, where precautions could be put in place to keep them safe. During that time, they received support from a job coach and earned minimum wage.
Between the two programs, 64 Licking County students participated.
In Licking County, students supported by the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities are referred to the five-week program by their transition support specialists.
OOD collaborated with partner agencies, Licking/Knox Goodwill Industries, Green Leaf Job Training Services, Behavioral Healthcare Partners, the FUSE Network, the Alpha Group and the Ohio State School for the Blind, which provided the job coaching at the different work sites.
The Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities caught up with several students participating in a summer work experience. Here are their stories:
He and his family selected Rural King in Heath as the site of his first ever summer work experience.
COVID-19 made a lot of things uncertain and Gabe went from working through I-TEC and attending Newark High School to learning at home. So he and his mother were excited to find out that OOD summer work experiences were moving forward, with smaller groups and safety precautions.
“He wanted to be out of the house and having something that provided him a safe way to be in the community was awesome,” said his mother Ashley Washburn.
Gabe, 18, had a great experience with his job coach from Licking/Knox Goodwill Industries, which really helped keep him motivated, Ashley said.
At Rural King he learned how to stock the dog and cat food and other merchandise. On one of his most memorable days, he helped put together 100 fishing poles.
Gabe also mastered the pallet jack, which he felt was a huge accomplishment.
He said he had to wear a mask — his had Batman on it — wash his hands and use sanitizer, but felt safe and learned a lot.
“I think he learned to work with other people better,” Ashley said. “He learned about being a good coworker and employee.”
Getting experience over the summer will hopefully help Gabe when he applies to participate in the Project SEARCH program. It was also nice to earn some money to buy games for his Nintendo Switch, he said.
Although he was only at Rural King for five weeks, Gabe didn’t have to say goodbye to the people he met there. His family worked it out in his senior year I-TEC schedule that his first job experience would be at Rural King.
Wearing her mask, she took on a variety of responsibilities, including setting up and cleaning up after events, plating food, washing dishes, painting and other outdoor maintenance.
Her favorite task was filing and other administrative jobs.
“I just liked being challenged and taking on new responsibilities and accomplishing goals,” she said. “It really gave me more of a diverse task experience that I’m thinking would make me more of a well rounded candidate for applying to other entry level jobs.”
Summer’s mom, Stacie, said she was thankful that the Davis-Shai house was a smaller setting with a group of staff members who were able to get to know her daughter better. The house was beautiful and the employees were understanding and approachable, which was a plus.
Summer enjoyed the experience so much that she volunteered to help out at some Davis-Shai events after she was done working there. She said she was also excited to earn money and used her paycheck to buy her first cell phone.
“I would recommend this program to other disabled students because I think it’s a really good experience to get their feet wet in the work force,” she said. “Also it helps with building up their resumes and credentials to apply for other jobs.”
Summer is currently looking for a part-time job on the weekends and is hoping that her experience sets her applications apart.
Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities contributed to this article.