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A summer of learning work skills and confidence

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For many high school students, a summer job means extra cash for fun or saving for college or a big purchase. For five students from the area, their summer job experience served as a rite of passage as they learned valuable employment skills and confidence in their abilities. 

The five students from Smith-Cotton and Green Ridge high schools participated in a cooperative work experience program this summer at Bothwell Regional Health Center in partnership with the Center for Human Services (CHS). 

The six-week program, designed to help students with documented disabilities make a smooth transition from school to post-high school employment, is funded by the Vocational Rehabilitation Summer Work Program through the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

“The Center for Human Services partners with voc rehab as a service provider to find employers to host students each summer,” said Sabrina Selvey, CHS program manager. “This is the first time in the program’s six-year history that we have placed students at Bothwell.” 

Selvey said the goal of the program is for the students to smoothly transition from high school to employment and gain employability skills. Alex Williams, Taylen Ross, Brian Monroe, and Maddie Stevens, of Smith-Cotton High School, and Michael Nilson, of Green Ridge High School, participated in this year’s program. All five are returning to their high schools this fall for at least one semester.

“For these five students, this is their first job ever,” she said. “In addition to learning a new job and everything that comes with that, they learn valuable socialization skills and grow their confidence and independence.” 

The students worked six hours a day for four days a week from June 29 to Aug. 13 in Bothwell’s Environmental Services, Laundry and Linen or Dietetics departments. They were paid through the program funding. Selvey said an on-site job coach was with the students at all times to make sure they were successful and lead them through one hour of classwork each day talking and learning about employment skills. 

“In their classwork, the students learned about ‘soft’ employment skills,” she said. “They talked about things like communication, problem solving and working with a team. They also worked on resume writing and interviewing skills.” 

Taylen Ross, 18, worked in Environmental Services and cleaned patient and procedure rooms with the Housekeeping team. She said that before she started working at Bothwell, she had social anxiety.

“Working at Bothwell had a calming effect on me, and now I feel more comfortable with people,” she said. “I also always wanted to know what it was like to work in a hospital. My grandmother worked here, so it’s a family thing.”

Terri Deer, Bothwell Dietetics director, is glad Bothwell participated in the program.

“It’s been a good, very positive experience,” Deer said. “The two students I had in Dietetics were well received in the department, and they were a huge help, especially when I was short-staffed due to other employees who were out due to illness or vacation.” 

According to Bothwell Human Resources Director Lisa Irwin, the students go through the same employment processes as all Bothwell employees. 

“That’s the beauty of the program,” she said. “They all applied for positions, were interviewed and attended orientation with other new Bothwell employees. Over the course of six weeks, they gained valuable employment experience. When the program ended, they also submitted resignation letters and asked for reference letters.”

Irwin said in addition to providing employment opportunities for the students, the program could be a recruiting tool for Bothwell. 

“It’s possible we could eventually hire one or more of the students in the future,” Irwin said. “If we have an opening and that is something they want to do. We’d love that.”

Selvey said that while not a goal of the program, it’s a well-received bonus when a student gets hired at a later time by an employer.

“We get excited when a student gets offered a job after the summer work experience,” she said. “It’s not expected or required, but it’s definitely a celebration.” 

Michael Nilson, 18, said he learned several important lessons while working in Bothwell’s Laundry and Linen department. 

“I learned the value of hard work,” he said. “I also learned that other people have disabilities of some kind, too, and that I’m not alone. Everyone needs a job even when they have a disability.”

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