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R.J. Lacey (right) shelves magazines as part of his job at Nye Library. Lacey, who gains work experience and social skills working at the library, is enrolled in the Gateway to Success Transitional 18 to 22 school to work program.

FORT SILL, OKla.--Eleven special needs students are getting on-the-job training to transition from school to work -- thanks to the Army Community Covenant.

The students enrolled in the Gateway to Success Transitional 18- to 22-year-old program, which is an educational and work-related transitions program for special needs youth. The program provides an opportunity to develop educational and occupational skills that will complement them as they transition from an educational environment to a work environment.

The students are now working in jobs within Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation as part of the covenant, which is designed to foster and sustain effective state and local community partnerships, said Brenda Spencer-Ragland, FMWR director. "This partnership between Fort Sill and Lawton Public Schools is another example of the community working together to improve life for the local area."

There are several different programs housed in the Gateway to Success School, said Rita Poshard, Transitional 18 to 22 program director. "The school was started in 1999 with six students, and today there are 46 students enrolled in the school. Eleven of the Transitional 18 to 22 program students are working on Fort Sill as part of the school to work program."

According to Poshard, the students involved in the transitional program have met their academic requirements to graduate, and they could receive their diplomas. But, their education team determined they need to continue services in specific areas, depending on their individual needs.

The to goals of the partnership are the develop behavioral, relationship, career and life skills. Behavioral skills include self-determination, time management and ethics. Relationship skills include social interaction with peers on and off the job site and learning conflict resolution and citizenship skills. Career skills include helping the students not only get a job, but maintaining it and possibly advancing in their position. Life skills include assisting the students with adapting to change, helping them <span>[JUMP]<t0></span>make better decisions, building better money management skills and using community resources.

"Some of the things these students still need help with include: life skills such as cooking, moving out on their own, assisting parents with supported living such as group homes if they wish to look into that," said Poshard. "The school to work program is a collaboration between the Vocational Rehabilitation Services and LPS. That's where the students go out and work at a specific job site depending upon their interests and their abilities and get paid. We have a team of job coaches, and each student is assigned a job coach to assist him or her on the job then slowly pull away but continue observation assistance."

Fort Sill got involved in the job program after Poshard and Spencer-Ragland discussed the possibility of helping some of these students transition into the work force. "I can't take all the credit because Cindy Caballero helped initiate the contract, start the program and iron out the legalities of getting it started. It took some years of planning and getting the right people together," said Poshard. Caballero is also a job coach for the program.

Not all the students in the program work on Fort Sill. There are also students who work in Lawton Public Schools in food service and custodial areas, and other work in private businesses such as day cares, automotive centers, Goodwill Industries and a group of students work at Vaska Theater.

Poshard said she hopes to expand the program on Fort Sill to other organizations. "Some of our students are interested in automotive work and sales, too. We have one young man, a military dependent, who just moved here from Germany and we found out that while his family was stationed in Germany he worked in their Game Stop in the PX. So, we hope to visit with the manager at the PX to see about placing him in a position there."

The students' disabilities can range from attention deficit disorder to Down syndrome or autism. These students all have talents and experience in certain areas where they can blossom if given the opportunity to experience the work force and possibly work their way up from the bottom, said Poshard.

She cited a success story. "We had a young lady in the school whose goal was to be a teacher. Because of her disabilities, there were limitations on her ability to go to college to obtain a degree and a license to teach. So realistically, we had to work with her to help her to understand all the requirements to become a classroom teacher. First we explored what she had to do to get that and then she realized she couldn't do what it takes to get that degree," she said.

Despite this temporary setback, the young woman was encouraged to continue to reach for her goal. They found other areas where she could teach.

"We found a local day care that allowed her to come in and work through her work study program for two hours a day for three years. She went from assisting the teacher, handing out cookies, helping to keep the area clean to meet state regulations to having her own group of students that she worked with. She's very happy."

Poshard says she foresees a long relationship between LPS and Fort Sill.

"We'll always be here to help our students, and MWR offers such a variety of services available for the students to explore. It's a perfect example of Fort Sill and Lawton coming together as a community working toward a common goal," she said.

Christine Carruthers, Exceptional Family Member Program manager, said the students in the program are at the age where they have completed their educational requirements, and they are at that point where they need some additional support to transition into the work force.

"It's going well; the students are really excited about the work and happy to be here. There have been no issues and they have exceeded our expectations. The hope is that other agencies on Fort Sill see the success that MWR is having with the students and want to take on students of their own," said Carruthers. "FMWR and the garrison's hope is that these students will transition into full-time employment and transition out of the Gateway program. The skills that they are getting here are transferable whether they get a job here or somewhere else."

The students and job coaches are paid through LPS so FMWR is gaining labor in exchange for providing the students on-the-job training and life skills. It really goes to support the Army Community Covenant because we are working with LPS in a partnership and that's another way that FMWR reinforces and supports the covenant with the local area. The program is really about the covenant because not all the students are military affiliated so it is not part of the EFMP -- we're supporting the covenant and we are the point of contact for the program, said Carruthers.

James Kennedy is a first-year student in the Gateway program, who is currently working in the Soldier and Family Assistance Center. Kennedy said although he has only been working for a couple weeks, he loves his job at the reception desk of the SFAC. "I think they placed me well because I like the job and I like meeting new people. I had training to do clerical work and this is a great fit. The main thing I've learned is social skills because I didn't talk to too many people before and now I'm talking to new people every day."

Page last updated Thu September 9th, 2010 at 16:19