Youth with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, severe cognitive learning disabilities and other disabilities gave power point presentations about themselves and their career choices Friday. They gave their presentations at the closing ceremony of the American Disability Act Vocational Summer Program sponsored by the V.I. Department of Labor.
“With this program I've realized we've tapped into some of the most beautiful minds,” said Stephanie Barnes, ADA coordinator. “They did things they didn't think they could do.”
The young folks ages 14 to 21 made their way to the podium at St. Croix Reformed Church dressed in khaki slacks and powder blue polo shirts and gave their presentation before relatives, counselors and instructors.
They want to be ticket takers at the movie theater, registered nurses, firemen, policemen, auto mechanics, art teachers, computer technicians and chefs. One young man wants to be a U.S. Marine, but Barnes thinks he could also be an artist. “I would love to buy his art work to hang on my walls,” she said.
The purpose of the six-week program is to develop skills on making career choices as well as how to interview, land a job and hold a job.
Barnes says the program only works if the youth attend daily. Barnes said they had perfect attendance this summer, the first time in the three years she has coordinated the program.
Structure started from the time they arrived, Monday through Friday, at 8 a.m. The six-hour day began with instructors and youth reading the local newspapers.
Barnes said they read only good news and the help wanted ads. They spend the next hour reading out load. They develop oral and communication skills and practice displaying respect.
During snack and socialization time, loners are forced to be with others, she said.
In the afternoon they all worked on laptop computers, took part in physical fitness activities and did artwork.
“The youth had continuous reinforcement, discipline or encouragement,” Barnes said. “We worked out the issues with typical behaviors that go with certain disabilities, behaviors the parents thought they couldn't get rid of.”
Charmala Louis, 20, told Barnes she really loved the program because the instructors and counselors were her age and not older teachers.
Cherene Walters, mother of 17-year-old Roshawn Watson, said she was so happy when she found a program for her daughter she could trust.
“I was so happy when Stephanie called,” Watson said. “I was wondering what Roshawn would do for the summer. This worked perfect; she wasn't bored. And it's beneficial for her future.” She said she was also excited that Barnes is trying to get a grant for an afterschool program for students with disabilities.
The program was held at St. Croix Central High School and St. Croix Reformed Church in Kingshill. Barnes said the young people will get a stipend for books and uniforms for the upcoming school year. The program is sponsored by the Department of Labor Workforce Investment Board.