For some teenagers with disabilities, it can be hard to stay motivated throughout high school, especially if they’re unsure what comes next. Essex High School in Vermont’s Employment Program gives students who have a disability a chance to be a part of the workforce while still in school. Goodwill stores are one of the places these students try out different jobs.
Mickey Bonges and Vickie Toppings run the program, and remembered a young man who needed to see a career path for himself.
“He may have not stayed in school and graduated, but he worked for Goodwill and it was successful,” Toppings said.
“He needed outside approval. He’s a star now because of that confidence, it flows back over into school,” Bonges added.
Goodwill has been a partner in this program for 15 years. In the summer of 2021, three students were placed in job experiences at a store, more are coming soon. When they start, it’s likely they’ll meet alumni from their program, because some of the former students stayed at these jobs after graduation.
“Our goal is to have a student leave with an employer-paid job,” Bonges said. “For a lot of these kids, their work is their social life. Work defines you. It’s very important. I appreciate that Goodwill managers will always carve out a job.”
Goodwill carves out work for people based on their ability and interests. For instance, some students from the Essex High School Employment Program sort shoes in the quieter back rooms, while others who like to be social with customers might pull old clothing stock from the sales floor. People might work for just a couple hours, or more if they’d like to.
While students are in the school’s program, Essex High gives them course credit for the work, and pays the students’ wages. The students can have an on-the-job coach during their work hours.
“For so many kids now they have a lot of anxiety and they need someone with them,” Bonges said.
“We want to work ourselves out of a job because they gain so much independence,” Toppings added.
Students can take the program as many times as they’d like, and they can use it as a transition out of high school.