CLASS Kids Program: Landscaping the Future
The CLASS Kids Program introduced the Vocational Ventures program in 2012. In this innovative program, CLASS Kids' community partners worked with students ages 14-18, with the focus on building job skills and job-related social skills through volunteerism. Students were identified through partnering agencies. Those participating in the program were eligible to receive monetary stipends for various milestones, such as keeping journals and creating resumes. In the initial meeting with the student and his/her family/caretakers, CLASS Kids staff helped identify vocational interests, personal and career goals, and social needs. Once these areas were identified, they then researched local businesses that aligned with the students’ interests, and then spoke to those business owners.
Sam was getting ready to graduate from high school and was interested in expanding his vocational experiences. Sam was a bright young man who struggled with social interactions and decision-making. He had many interests, including yard work. Sam, his family and the community partners determined as a team that doing outside work such as landscaping and trimming, perhaps at a nursery, would be a good fit, especially since summer was approaching.
After talking with several local business owners, community partners connected with one nursery owner who was particularly welcoming and willing to work with a young, inexperienced student with special needs. An added benefit was that the nursery was within walking distance from Sam’s home. A week later, a meeting was scheduled for the owner and Sam to talk and discuss his duties. This gave Sam a chance to use his social skills and get an idea of what a job interview might be like. After the initial meeting, it was decided that Sam would volunteer three days per week, about six hours per day. Initially, community partners checked on Sam’s progress at the nursery, and soon Sam was able to work independently for large portions of the day, getting his instructions in the morning and then completing those tasks on his own. Community partners also consulted with the business owner, who was open to suggestions on how to give instructions without overwhelming Sam or confusing him. Sam was also able to hone his social skills by occasionally talking with customers or other co-workers. By the end of the season, Sam was going out with “the crew” on landscaping jobs and doing work on the company farm pruning and tending to trees.
In addition to gaining valuable experience, Sam was able to add to his resume, which he created with the assistance of CLASS Kids community partners. In a conversation with the nursery owner, it was revealed that Sam was welcome to return to the position in the spring when they reopened and would be considered for paid employment.