Summer Programs Introduce Youth with Disabilities to Workforce


SANDY—Think back to your first job. What surprised you about work? Were you successful? Did you get support to learn job-specific skills? Did someone help you develop the soft skills you needed, like how to get along with others and be responsible for your actions?

That transition from school to work can be hard, especially for young people with disabilities.

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) administers a summer work experience program to help youth with disabilities bridge that life change. The program is a partnership with the Office of Developmental Disabilities Services and the Department of Education.

This summer, more than 1,300 students with disabilities, ages 16 to 21, are participating in a variety of VR summer work programs.

Kaylie McVay, weeding in the fava patch. Students clear pathways, learn to identify weeds from vegetables and water plants in the greenhouse during the summer work experience program.

Forty youth are at AntFarm Youth Services in Sandy, Oregon. AntFarm opened in 2010 and is in its second year as a VR summer work experience program.

“The name AntFarm was selected because ants are communal and when they work together they can lift many times their own weight,” said Nunpa, AntFarm’s founder and executive director.

“We are really upfront with the students about needing support,” Nunpa says. “We talk about how to find supports and find an advocate to live their dreams.”

Phase 1 of AntFarm’s program is about how to get a job. “We say the phrase ‘how to get a job’ a million times, to reinforce the idea,” Nunpa said. In phase 1, students turn in their I9s, fill out a job application and more.

Phase 2 focuses on how to keep a job. It’s four weeks of internships with a daily review of behavior and work ethic.

In the last phase, AntFarm hires the students. “They are told they will be treated like an employee because they are an employee,” Nunpa said.

During the internship and the job, youth work in the field, on the mountain building trails, in the café, or do other tasks for a day and a half. For the remainder of day two they are in AntFarm’s Axis Learning Center, building on the feedback they’ve gotten.

Griffin Collins and Kaylie McVay are in AntFarm’s program again this year. “Griffin found working on a team can be challenging,” Nunpa said.

“I used to get really angry with co-workers I thought were lazy. I would tell them they should get back to work,” Griffin said. “I’m not that way anymore. I learned how to focus on my work. AntFarm helped me have better social and work skills and to become a more mature person.” Griffin is headed to Portland Community College this fall.

Kaylie says “This program helped me grow as a person and helped my social skills. I learned new things, and I’m not used to new, so it can be difficult at times to work myself up to try.”

Kaylie also learned some important rules about work. “I was a little spoiled. I’d say I’m hungry, I want a break, and they would say no, you need to work.”

“It’s that growing up thing,” Nunpa said. “She’s a rock star now and has been a great leader in this summer’s orientation.”

Learn more about AntFarm.

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About Author

Sherryll Hoar is a Communications Officer with the Oregon Department of Human Services.

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