Kaylee Higgins is still thinking about what she wants to do when she’s done with high school.
But her first work experience this summer — sorting clothes and donated items at the Goodwill Unlimited store in Heath— helped her identify tasks she enjoys.
“I also got to meet new people and new friends,” she said
Kaylee, 18, attends Rewired, and is one of the close to 90 Licking County students participating in Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities’ Summer Employment Program this year.
The program provides students (ages 14 to 21) with disabilities the opportunity to explore the world of work and gain on-the-job training.
This year, approximately 2,700 students across Ohio participated in summer jobs while an additional 1,300 younger students were supported to explore and prepare for their first job experiences.
Most local students get connected with the program through their LCBDD Transition Specialist or OOD counselor during the school year.
About 20 students chose to do Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), which gives students an early start in exploring career interests. The program’s five core services include Job Exploration Counseling, Work-Based Learning, Counseling on Post-Secondary Opportunities, Workplace Readiness Training, and Instruction in Self-Advocacy.
There were 68 local students who opted to try a summer work experience. After being assigned to a work site based on their interests and abilities, students were able to receive support from a job coach and earn minimum wage.
This year Greenleaf Job Training Services and Licking/Knox Goodwill Industries hosted job sites. Students got to select from a variety of options including the Walking Wild Fox Rescue, local Goodwill Stores, the Grove by the River, Giant Eagle, Golf Works and Infirmary Mound Park.
This summer’s Goodwill sites have been successful and coaches have seen a lot of growth from the students, said Lexi Rowland, Acting Vice President of Career Services.
“They’ve really gained a lot of good skills,” she said. “It’s been great to see them make new friends and build social skills.”
Justin Shanks, 16, choose to try working at Rural King, and said he’s been happy with the experience.
He’s learned how to dust shelves and stock them and has also helped with cleaning.
Skylar Engle, 18, also learned about stocking during her experience at Giant Eagle. She’s really showed her willingness to learn and did a great job straightening groceries on the shelves, said Tammy Elliott, a job coach with Greenleaf.
Skylar also said she enjoyed learning how to get carts in the parking lot.
If you have a child, 14 years of age or older with a disability, reach out to OOD for more information on how the agency can help your child with career exploration, skill development, and strategies to get a job after graduation. Counselors begin talking with students and their parents, about next summer’s opportunities, beginning in the fall. To find out more, go to https://ood.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/ood/individuals-with-disabilities/services/students-14-plus or talk to your Transition Specialist.
Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities contributed to this article.