Rashida is ready for her close-up. But then, she’s ready for that every day.
“Every day, I have an awesome day,” she says, beaming.
At 22, and from Egg Harbor City, NJ, Rashida is successfully navigating the “Bridge to Employment” – an innovative, early intervention career program designed to help high school students with disabilities transition successfully into the workplace. The program, developed by JEVS Human Services (under its New Jersey hireAbility program) and funded by the Kessler Foundation, has been in existence for two years, spanning Rashida’s high school graduation and beyond. And with the support of her JEVS career navigator, Kimberly Callahan, Rashida’s sense of independence and self-confidence continues to grow.
“Rashida is a people-person,” said Callahan. “We met while she was an Atlantic County Special Services student worker in a Community Classroom at Shore Medical Center. Through a process known as Discovery, our team learned about Rashida’s likes and interests. Paired with classroom instruction and workplace training, it’s been wonderful to watch her personal growth; she really takes pride in what she does and in her new skills.”
Today, Rashida is employed part-time in a cleaning capacity at Old Navy, and is thoroughly enjoying each new task assigned to her. It’s not unusual, she says, because she loved her (previous) internship with a hospital laundry department (where she helped collect volunteer donations for Haitian residents affected by the hurricane), and the support she has received from Callahan, her job coach, and her employers.
“It’s important to give all the students—and our jobsite partners—that level of support,” said Callahan. “As a young person in a new environment, sometimes the question ‘What if I fail?” gets raised, and we tell them, we’re going to give you all the support you need to make sure you can succeed.”
Other students, Callahan notes, are currently working or interning at places as diverse as Stockton College, local gyms, restaurants, casinos and nonprofit organizations. The acquired knowledge of career options and the impact of the dedicated training have lasting impact on individual members and their families.
“They (JEVS and Kessler) helped me a lot, and without them, I wouldn’t have this job,” says Rashida, happily smiling as she shows her new purse next to the spotless cash wrap she is responsible for. But it’s the answer to a final question that leaves everyone smiling just as broadly as Rashida; given a question about her future plans, she thinks a minute, and says:
“I want to talk to people. I want to be the supportive girl, encouraging people.”
For more information on how JEVS makes employment work for people with disabilities in Pennsylvania, contact JEVS Project Success; for more information on services in New Jersey, contact JEVS hireAbility.