“It is meant to go out into the public school systems to reach kids that are 14 to 22 years old that are in a transitionary period, kids with disabilities, and find them vocational opportunities to help develop them and get them ready for life after high school — what they want to do. What are some of their interests,” said Kelly Hunter, director of Star Inc. “We’re in Vern Riffe School right now, but this program will allow us to go into Portsmouth, and all the various county high schools. It’s a big challenge. When we go out we’ll be doing some career exploration,” Hunter said. “They can get some work experience and they will get a little wider variety of work such as landscaping, working at the library or the university.”
The program, Bridges to Transition, through the Rehabilitation Services Commission (RSC) in Columbus, allows STAR consumers to experience a wide variety of jobs, so that they can better choose their vocation.
“They (RSC) are an entity that allows us to put forth local match money, and it goes up to the RSC, and it will allow the RSC to turn that in to the federal government, and then we draw down roughly four dollars for every one we send up,” Hunter said. “That comes back locally and we’re allowed to use that money to run this Bridges program. This is a real need. Although all school districts are charged with having a transition program for kids with disabilities in high school, they’re up against it like everyone else. The resources aren’t what they used to be.”
Hunter said the RSC grant for 2012 will be about $700,000 for the local program. The local match was granted from the Scioto County Board of DD. The middleman in the system is the the Ohio Association of County Boards which manages the allocation of the funds. While the grant is for 2012, the program has actually been in operation since July 2011.
“We enrolled eight students,” Hunter said. “Three of them were from Vern Riffe, and the rest were from various other schools throughout the county.”
Eric Sutter, a jobs development specialist, said the group took a trip to COSI in Columbus and Newport Aquarium across from Cincinnati for career exploration.
“It’s kind of a soft skills career development that helped them with interviewing skills,” Sutter said. “And they went through their list of ideal jobs, and it broke down what all that would entail. Some found out that they wanted to change their career choice. Some dug in more to what they wanted.”
Hunter said one of the expenses his organization has to deal with is transportation of workers to and from the workplace.
“On a yearly basis we do probably just shy of 10,000 trips,” Hunter said. “That’s all coordinated by Eric. People may have seen the building, but they really don’t know the network of supports. Once we place someone in a job, that is when our work starts. We sustain them throughout their lifetime and support them in that job.”
Hunter talked about some of the businesses they have had relationships with through the years, such as McDonald’s, The Scioto Ribber and SFI Industries in New Boston.
“When the economy is down I want to give a lot of credit to the local employers who have still maintained a pretty significant commitment to people with disabilities in our community,” Hunter said.
Sutter said the ongoing process includes training and retraining on new equipment in the workplace.
Primarily, the staff at the Vocation Station comes from STAR Inc. under the Bridges grant.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232, or email@example.com.