Employment Initiative: Building Bridges to Careers

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Olentangy student Nanette Kamba works at a hair coloring station at b/rose beauty bar in Powell while participating in the Olentangy Employment Initiative.

A unique new program within  Olentangy Local Schools is giving students like Nanette Kamba something they haven’t had before — the chance to gain on-the-job experience while in high school.

Kamba is among a select group of students with developmental disabilities participating in the Olentangy Employment Initiative. The grant-funded program launched in 2014 provides students with valuable opportunities to improve their work and social skills. The program is a private-public collaboration between Olentangy Local Schools, the Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association (TRECA), ViaQuest Employment Services and business partners in Powell.

Students enrolled in the program are matched up with participating Powell businesses that provide internships. The students work at the businesses twice a week during normal school hours, gaining skills that support lifelong employment potential. As simple as it sounds, the program is filling a critical need, said Wes Almond of ViaQuest, a service provider for those with disabilities and a partner in Olentangy’s Employment Initiative. Traditionally, students with disabilities struggle to find community employment after high school and remain in school long after their peers have graduated, Almond said.  “The future can be scary for parents of children with developmental disabilities because it is often difficult for those with disabilities to transition to life after school. Their future is unknown, so parents tend to stay with what is known.” Almond said.

In Ohio, students with disabilities can remain in school until they are 22 years old; that often means parents keep their child in school and defer their diplomas up to their 22nd birthday. “With the Olentangy Employment Initiative, it is reassuring for parents to know their child is in a safe environment while also learning job skills,” Almond said.

“The program is about complete community integration, which is key because everyone has the right to live and work in their own community.”

At 19, Kamba is a perfect example of the program’s benefits. Instead of spending another year in school, she’s building a bridge to potential future employment as an intern at b/rose beauty bar, a hair salon in downtown Powell. “I am so happy I get to do this. I’m learning a lot about styling hair and it has made me realize this is what I want to do,” said Kamba. Her duties at b/rose include preparing styling stations for customers, assisting the stylists, and general cleaning chores. “My mom likes that I’m doing this, too.  She knows it’s the kind of stuff that interests me,” she said. ViaQuest is also working collaboratively with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities to ensure Nanette is able to continue postsecondary education and training in the beauty field after high school.

Students like Nanette aren’t the only benefactors. There are obvious benefits for participating business partners, too. “Nanette helps keep our stylists on track, set up stations, and after only a few days on the job, she was doing things on her own initiative,” said Paige Elizabeth, studio coordinator at b/rose.
“Plus she always has a big smile on her face,” she added. In addition to b/rose, Powell businesses that have partnered with the Olentangy Employment Initiative so far include Local Roots and the Mean Bean Coffee Shop.

Olentangy administrators plan to expand the program next year and will be tracking the success of the student interns. The Olentangy Employment Initiative is partially funded through a grant administered by TRECA. The funds help to lease a community room in Powell where Olentangy and ViaQuest employees work with qualified students to prepare them for their internships.

“The program is about complete community integration, which is key because everyone has the right to live and work in their own community,” said Olentangy Intervention Specialists Rita Treese. “Some people just need a little extra support, which is just what this program provides,” she said.

For additional information, contact the district Communcations Department at 740-657-4067.