Gracie Brooks loves to cook and hopes to work at a restaurant someday.
So she was thrilled when she found out that she was going to spend a few weeks working at Bob Evans this summer.
Gracie was one of about 50 local students who participated in Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities’ Summer Employment Program this year.
The program provides students (ages 14 to 21) with disabilities opportunities to explore the world of work and gain on-the-job training.
Throughout the year, OOD offers Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) — which give students an early start in exploring career interests. It’s a popular option in the summer, when students are out of school.
If students choose to complete a summer work experience, they spend time at a job site, receiving support from a job coach and earning minimum wage.
This summer, Greenleaf Job Training Services, Arc Industries and Licking/Knox Goodwill Industries hosted job sites which included Giant Eagle, Rural King and several Goodwill locations.
Gracie, who attends Newark Digital Academy, worked at a Goodwill store last year but was excited to work in a kitchen and learn about food prep.
Her favorite thing to do at Bob Evans was crack and mix up eggs for omelet mix.
Daniel Koenig, a student at Heath High School and C-TEC, and Otis Moran, a student at Watkins Memorial High School, both had their first work experiences at Rural King last year.
This year, they both opted to learn about working with cars and had the opportunity to clean and detail the vehicles in Goodwill’s fleet.
“I’ve been enjoying myself,” Otis said. “It’s nice to meet new people, have fun and get paid!”
Goodwill also hosted a site at the Licking Park District where students helped keep the parks clean and maintain the kayaks and trails. They even got the chance to help out with the Fairy Trail at Infirmary Mound Park.
This summer wasn’t the first work experience for Alex Payment, a student at Granville High School. But it was his favorite, because he got to work outside.
Alex said he thinks some of the skills he learned this summer will help him as he works toward his goal of living in a big city and having his own golf business. He said he was thankful to his Goodwill job coach, David Taylor, for helping him during the experience.
After a career in logistics, David decided to make a career change after an injury. Working as a job coach with students at both the Park District and Rural King was life changing, he said.
Despite the heat, both groups of teens worked extremely hard, he said.
“They are doing great,” he said. “I’m truly inspired.”
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.