The Lake Washington School District (LWSD) Transition Academy helps qualified high school graduates with developmental disabilities, up to age 21, hone employment and social skills. Through volunteer positions, internships and part-time jobs, they gain competence and confidence.
Since October, the Redmond Reporter has followed the progress of Transition Academy students, including some who are set to exit the program at a June 10 commencement ceremony.
Their future looks bright.
CARLY’S NEW JOB
Carly Hursh, who’ll soon graduate from the academy, was featured in our series in January. She included that press clip in her portfolio when she went to a “working interview” at Kirkland’s Cobalt Mortgage in April.
Cobalt’s shipping manager, Amanda Froelich, was charmed by Hursh’s eagerness and how quickly she caught on to office procedures. Hursh now works at Cobalt around 15 hours weekly.
“I personally was the one who trained and interviewed her, showing her a few different tasks including scanning files, hole punching and putting together files, filing in alphabetical order and uploading files to our archive system via the Internet. She was a very fast learner and very attentive,” said Froelich.
She said Hursh works well independently, but isn’t afraid to ask questions.
“She is always exceeding my expectations and works diligently every minute she is here,” Froelich noted.
In addition, said Froelich, “She has opened up a great deal since she started with us and we are now getting to see the fun, friendly, very personable side of her, as well as the hard-working side. Carly has been a great addition to our team and we are very glad to have her here.”
Looking poised and polished at her workplace last week, Carly told us she loves the job, too.
JASON AND BRYAN
Jason Grager, featured in the Redmond Reporter last fall, will also graduate from the academy next week.
He now volunteers at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, assembling linen packets for patients.
“It’s two times a week and he wants to expand his hours,” said Michael Goodwill of Provail, a special needs employment agency that partners with the Transition Academy.
“Jason would love to work at Evergreen,” Goodwill added.
“They’re not hiring now but he is definitely making a name for himself. … You can sense he is so proud of his position. He texts me, Richard (Haines) and Mark (Tornquist) after every shift, about what he has done,” Goodwill added, referring to the Transition Academy’s co-directors.
Bryan Groscost, profiled in the Redmond Reporter in March, has volunteered at the Redmond Regional Library since last summer.
“Amanda (Hirst, his supervisor at the library) saw this as a good fit, something he enjoys — and said he can submit his application when they are hiring,” said Goodwill.
“There may be an opportunity for him to work 12-20 hours a week, maybe add some new tasks at a pace where he can get comfortable. Bryan shelves magazines, DVDs and hold requests. He’s getting more comfortable with his co-workers and giving the library an opportunity to add value by bringing on someone who’s really on-board,” Goodwill said.
MAKING GREAT MATCHES
Transition Academy students have a variety of disabilities — but also, strengths, hopes and dreams.
Goodwill and his colleagues ask students where they’d most like to work. Along with staff from Provail, Haines and Tornquist and Transition Academy para-instructors Judy Long, Dylan Sedlak, Sonja Kastner, Pauline Fuentes and Heather Shouey cast out nets in the business community, hoping to make students’ wishes come true.
Yet employers must also be happy with their hires. Otherwise, they may never take another chance on someone with special needs.
“This year, I’ve talked to 30-plus new businesses and countless others with existing relationships. The most important thing is that right match,” said Goodwill.
Bill Constantine, general manager of the Red Robin restaurant in Redmond’s Overlake neighborhood, is a prime example of someone who once had doubts but is now a believer in the Transition Academy and agencies such as Provail.
Constantine remarked, “Michael has been great and works very well around my schedule and what I need. But I was kind of shooing him away in the beginning. There are a lot of responsibilities, running a restaurant. With different companies, I’ve tried this before and employees with special needs didn’t work out for different reasons. But he was very persistent to make a good fit.”
In January, Transition Academy student Kaitlyn Bush began working at Red Robin as a greeter.
“Kaitlyn is doing a great job,” said Constantine. “She’s very personable, loves to smile and have fun and has a great attitude. With time, she may have more opportunities here.”
Bubbly and energetic during a lunch shift last week, Kaitlyn told us that the best part of her job is to “greet people, open doors, say ‘hello and how are you and thank you for coming.’”
Based on Kaitlyn’s success, Constantine hired Chandler Gordon, who will graduate from the Transition Academy next week. She works in the restaurant before it opens, doing prep work such as wrapping silverware and folding the paper liners that go around burgers and sandwiches.
According to Goodwill, “Chandler had a great presence in her interview and management at Red Robin was very supportive of her and carved out a position for her. … Bill is a true reflection of how this partnership works and he has been perfect in every step of the way as he has opened up these opportunties for Kaitlyn and Chandler.”
JOIN THE TEAM
Transition Academy co-director Mark Tornquist is recruiting business people and community leaders to form an advisory team. Team members will assist with advocacy and fundraising.
To serve a growing special needs population, Tornquist would like to add more space, perhaps another location, to accommodate more students. Influential community members can help to research locations and secure financial support.
There’s also a need for scholarships for many of these young adults.
The Transition Academy is “activities-oriented, including social aspects, things to fill students’ time when they are not working,” Tornquist explained.
Some don’t have jobs yet. Of those that do, they generally work about 12-15 hours a week.
“We teach them how to get around, things to do,” said Tornquist. “The social part, such as going to a gym, going to a restaurant or transportation costs money. They have to pay their own expenses. We don’t want to turn away people in need.”
Helping to sustain or expand the Transition Academy is an investment in the community, he stressed.
“It’s proven time and again, these are very good employees, good community members, good role models. Business partners will have a horse in this race — to make a segment of this population employable,” Tornquist said. “They are people just like you and me, who want to be treated with dignity and want to belong.”
To learn more about the LWSD Transition Academy or its advisory team, call Mark Tornquist at (425) 861-3452, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.lwsd.org/school/ta.