Preparing youth with disabilities to succeed at work

In 2018, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) released a grant for pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS), with funds targeting students who qualify for vocational rehabilitation in their future. Knowing it was a big undertaking, DEED turned to organizations like Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota (GESMN) for help.

During that first year, the GESMN team set a goal to serve 150 students ages 14-21 in 10 schools. In just nine months, they had far exceeded that goal, serving 296 students in 14 schools. By fall of 2019, the team has served over 400 students in 18 schools, located in 4 counties.

Many things make this program a continued success, including the passion of Allen Mavis, the Pre-ETS instructor, who is committed to giving students the experience they need to succeed.

“Teaching has always been a passion,” Allen says. “I’m a former musician and entertainer and now PowerPoint is my instrument. When I’m in front of a class, I look at the curriculum like it’s a piece of music. Part of being a teacher is being an entertainer – not all of it – but a big part of it is keeping the students engaged.”

The lessons help students gain skills to get and keep their first job. Allen’s fun, interactive activities including using walkie talkies to represent taking orders in a drive-through, editing marketing materials and even lessons about the importance of attendance at work. Students also get exposure to working professionals to explore various career paths. 

“We are good at responding to community needs,” says Andrea West, a workforce development manager at GESMN. “We are actively coordinating with the schools to provide customized services based on the needs of the students.”

“High schools have intense scheduling,” Allen continues. “We have to be very accessible and go in when the teachers want us to. Sometimes I teach three classes a day, all at different schools. Sometimes we only get to be with students for a couple days and other times it’s weeks. Together we determine what they want the program to look like and then adapt from there.”

 “We hear stories all the time about teachers realizing what their students can do,” Allen continues with a smile. “When they’re put in a position to demonstrate their skills in a new situation, they really shine. The teachers love it because they see a lot of things in their students they’ve never seen before.”

Allen, Andrea and the Pre-ETS team are ready for the 2020 school year and are looking forward to serving even more students and schools.