The Earthworks/J.E.S.S.E (Joint Educational Services of Special Education) Work Experience Program is designed to provide high school students with special needs an opportunity to participate in a realistic work experience in a natural setting, providing growth in self-confidence. This program began the second semester of the 2016-2017 school year with 1 student working at the PHJC Greenhouse. The program worked so well that we expanded the program for the 2017-2018 school year. During the first semester we had a total of 9 students participate, providing work experiences with four ministries at The Center at Donaldson. As a result, interest grew in the program, and by the second semester, we had doubled the number of students and increased the number of participating ministries to seven. Work experience opportunities are currently provided by Ministry Center Environmental Services, Dietary Services, Ancilla Beef and Grain Farm, Greenhouse, Earthworks, Communications, Maria Center and Ancilla College Environmental Services. We continue to look for new experience opportunities at all of the PHJC Ministries at The Center at Donaldson.
Students come from nine area school corporations. We also hire Ancilla College students to work with the high school students as “peer mentors”. Peer mentors help by providing students with appropriate job related skills including: ability to follow instructions and task completion, attendance, attitude, dependability, safety and self advocacy, and self determination skills.
Earthworks and J.E.S.S.E. came together with the common interest in providing young adults with special needs a way to transition to life after high school. Before participating in our program, these students were often overlooked due to lack of funding and work experience opportunities. The Center at Donaldson provides a safe and welcoming environment for these students to work and grow.
After completion of the work experience, each student receives a certificate that they can use with their resume and as a work related reference for job applications. Students that have completed this program have performed at or above expectations on work performance assessments. In addition, the community gains more employable individuals. The recent teacher of a participating student shared that her student could not be more excited about her position as card designer at Earthworks. SHE LOVES IT! The first day she came back and told us she was inspired! She gives us all the details of what she is doing and can’t wait to go each week. This is a child that has rarely been inspired by anything, let alone used the word with a smile on her face. This testimonial sums up the difference the Earthworks/J.E.S.S.E. Work Experience has made in the lives of our area students through providing opportunities and experiences which may have been missed.
Funding for this program is needed because many special needs high school student are leaving high school without any vocational skills to help prepare them for future success in their community, work endeavors, or college environment. The students that have mild to moderate special needs are typically on the Diploma Track and are able to earn a diploma when they complete high school. The students can have success at an appropriate vocation but are currently underserved by programs that would provide this kind of training. This grant will specifically help this group of high school students to be matched with a peer mentor.