FORT SILL, Okla.-- It has been another successful year for Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and the Gateway to Success Program. A group of nine students have finished their school-to-work jobs and are ready to join the workforce.

The students were enrolled in the Gateway to Success Transitional 18-21 year old Program. It provides career, life, behavioral and relationship skills for students who are on an individualized education program and qualify for continued special needs support. The school to work program helps students develop educational and occupational skills that will complement them as they transition from an educational environment to a work environment.

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

April Plumley, Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator said FMWR is committed to working with their partners in Lawton Public Schools.

"I think this is just one way that we support the different programs LPS offers. FMWR is taking the lead by providing the positions for them to work. Many of these students have already been requested for work at the agencies they worked for last semester."

This was the second year for FMWR to employ students in the Gateway Program. Plumley said the program is doing well as they continue to expand and develop the partnership. "When the program began, we weren't sure what to expect, but we figured it out as we went along. I think it's been a great benefit to FMWR and the students. It has been a win-win and a true partnership."

Plumley said she could see the growth in all nine students.

"When the students started working, they had a coach with them who was very hands-on but through time the coach stepped back and allowed the students to do the tasks they were trained to do," she said. "It has been really nice to see them come to work every day; they really have become a part of our family.

"I anticipate there will be another group of students from the program who come to work with FMWR to sharpen their skills next year," she said.

The transitional 18-21 year old program is one of several programs housed in the Gateway to Success School, said Rita Poshard, program director. "The transition program started in 1999 with six students and has grown each year."

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

The goals of the partnership are to 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, citizenship skills and learning conflict resolution. Career skills include helping the students not only get a job but helping them maintain it and possibly advance in their position. Life skills include assisting the students with adapting to change, helping them make better decisions, building money management skills and using community resources.

"Some of the things these students still need help with include life skills, such as cooking or moving out on their own. We assist 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 to work at a specific job site depending upon their interest and abilities. Students are compensated by receiving minimum wage. We have a team of job coaches and each student is assigned a job coach to assist them on the job and slowly pull away from them 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, who has worked with me for years, helped to initiate the contract, start the program and ironed out the legalities of getting the program started. It took some years of planning and getting the right people together," said Poshard.

Not all the students in the transitional program work at Fort Sill. There are also students who work through the Lawton Public School system in food service and custodial areas. Others work in private businesses such as day cares, automotive centers, Goodwill Industries of Southwest Oklahoma and Vaska Theater.

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

"We'll always be here to help our students, and FMWR 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.

Plumley hopes other agencies on Fort Sill see the success that FMWR is having with the students and will want to take on students of their own.

"FMWR and the [Fort Sill] Garrison commander's hope is these students will transition into full-time employment. The skills they are getting here are transferable whether they get a job on post or somewhere else."

The students and job coaches are paid through Department of Rehabilitation Services so FMWR is gaining labor in exchange for providing the student on-the-job training and life skills. "The partnership between FMWR and LPS is another great reinforcement of the Army Community Covenant, which improves the quality of life for all military communities," said Spencer-Ragland.