While receiving residential treatment at Hillside, a handful of youth are also getting a head start toward a specific life goal: entering the workforce.
They’re participating in a 10-month pilot, based on Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection’s Youth Employment Training Academy, that emphasizes communication, collaboration and other “soft” and “hard” skills essential to on-the-job success. The pilot currently augments Hillside’s Developmental Abilities Services Transition Program, which serves youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Past sessions have involved counting change at a cash register, job interviews and even navigating public transportation. Today, conceptual problem-solving is on the table: The youth are paired up to solve jigsaw puzzles—but after briefly discussing a plan, they’re not allowed to speak while doing the work.
Later, they’re asked about the experience. What was their role on the team? How did they work together? Did strategy help the process?
When one youth asks about working with someone they might not like, another responds, “You don’t have to like people. You just have to respect them.”
“They’re really up to the challenge,” says Christine Kunz, who co-leads the sessions. “One young lady had been with me since the very beginning of her time at Hillside. At our initial meeting, she put her head down on the table and didn’t make eye contact. She barely spoke above a whisper. But when she left, she was a bright and bubbly person who could effectively communicate her goals and ideals. I was so thrilled to see those changes.”
Miranda, 19, says the pilot is helping her pursue her dream job. “I want to be a baker,” she says. “Miss Chris helped me visit places and learn how to ride the bus. We went to the bakery and learned how it worked. She’s teaching me how to get ready for my job, and to work with different people.”
The workforce-readiness pilot was funded by a gift from Dr. Richard Hagen of Rochester; with future community support, the program will expand to serve more youth. “Initiatives like this support the independence of youth as they prepare to transition to adulthood,” Dr. Hagen says. “Without traditional government funding for this effort, philanthropy must fill the gap.”
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