For the past several weeks, three young men have been helping in various aspects at the Madison County Board of Developmental Disabilities (MCBDD).
Raymond Higgins, Thomas (TJ) Swindall, and Brandon Hardin began their assignment through the Madison County Department of Job and Family Services’ (DJFS) Youth Works Program in mid-June and it will conclude next week.
“It is an employment and training program that focuses on preparing youth for the workforce,” said Sherri Kronk, Youth Program Coordinator for Madison County DJFS. “The youth have the opportunity, through partnerships with community agencies/employers to gain beneficial work experience and skills through an eight-week structured summer employment opportunity.”
This is the second consecutive year that Higgins has been placed with MCBDD for the summer program. It is Swindall’s second year in the program as well. Last year he was placed at the London Police Department.
While Kronk said there are not necessarily any different or additional expectations of individuals after their first year, but she added she hopes they apply what they have learned the previous summers.
“The youth are held to the same standards, though I expect the older youth to take a leadership role and be an example for the others,” Kronk said. “We offer them an increase in pay and increase in number of hours they are able to work, if the worksite can accommodate this.”
The trio is spending this summer with the MCBDD maintenance and custodial crews cleaning and refurbishing. They replaced ceiling tiles and painted walls in Fairhaven School in preparation for the arrival of the Gospel Road program. Gospel Road is a group of Columbus Dioceses Catholic-sponsored youth who spend their summer helping others. Gospel Road painted murals on a number of the school’s interior walls.
This has been a mutually-beneficial experience, according to MCBDD Organization Services Director John LaCivita.
“The Summer Youth Program is a definite win-win all the way around,” LaCivita said. “And agencies such as ours receive the benefit of additional labor that enables us to complete upgrades to our facilities that would have been otherwise impossible.”
The teens have been working with MCBDD Maintenance and Custodial workers Scott Duffey, Randy Redding and Dave Shingler, growing in their knowledge as the summer has progressed.
“They have gotten better over the summer as they have learned more and more,” Duffey said. “If they see something that is wrong, now they just fix it.”
Duffey said the original plan was to just repaint the hallways in Fairhaven. With the youth workers’ diligence, they were able to paint a number of classrooms as well.
“It went so well we were able to get more done than we had planned,” Duffey said. He said the workers also assisted with home modifications for people with disabilities including building a wheelchair ramp with rails and an easier-accessible closet system.
According to Kronk, the program itself has undergone some modifications since she began her current position in October 2007.
“The program has evolved from the primary focus being on a ‘summer program’ to being a ‘year round program,’” Kronk said. “The summer employment opportunity is just an element of what the program offers (because now) the youth participate in year round program activities.”
The DJFS-MCBDD partnership is one that LaCivita sees as continuing for a number of years to come.
“Sherri does a great job matching the young workers with their interests and aptitudes,” LaCivita said of Kronk. “The students gain valuable employment skills and work ethics that will serve them throughout a lifetime.”
“I am especially thankful to John LaCivita and Jennifer Coleman (MCBDD Community Inclusion Manager) for their collaboration to make all of this happen,” Kronk said. “But, I must also acknowledge the maintenance men who work with and provide the valuable training and job skills to the youth men.”
Kronk continued praising the benefits of on-the-job training.
“They do a great job and have provided much meaningful knowledge and skills to these young men,” Kronk said. “I know that after last summer Raymond was very eager to return to work with the maintenance crew because of all of the meaningful job skills he learned.”
And MCBDD was happy to have him and his new friends helping out.
“It would be great to have them back next year,” Duffey said. “I know next year to be ready with a lot of things to do.”
According to Kronk, in addition to MCBDD, students through the Youth Program have been placed at London Police Department, Madison County Emergency Management Agency, Madison County-London City Health District, Madison-Plains bus garage, Norwood Elementary Latchkey Program, and West Jefferson School District.