What did you do for National Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) during National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October? That’s what we asked youth and program staff who are a part of the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) in 12 communities across the U.S. In this blog, we’re pleased to share some of their responses and we invite you to share yours too by leaving us a comment.
As we mentioned in last month’s blog by staff from the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), DMD is a program that connects nearly 20,000 students and job seekers with all types of disabilities to thousands of employers every October. DMD promotes career development through hands-on career exploration, job shadowing, and mentoring that often leads to internships and employment. For DMD 2011, AAPD partnered with several large employers, including Wal-Mart and Darden Restaurants (of Olive Garden fame) to provide DMD opportunities to youth in communities across the country.
If you regularly follow our blog, you may already know that the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) is a high-tech, career-focused mentoring program for youth with disabilities involved with or at-risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. The RAMP model utilizes a combination of group, peer, and one-on-one mentoring to promote the successful transition of RAMP youth to employment, continued learning opportunities, and independent living. Since RAMP uses career-focused mentoring to engage youth in practical and hands-on career exploration activities, DMD fits right into the activities that RAMP sites already provide to youth.
Some RAMP sites were new to participating in DMD, while others were old hands, like Easter Seals Greater Houston (ESGH), TX, which was involved in DMD last year. This year ESGH partnered with Darden Restaurants and five different Olive Garden locations. Each Olive Garden provided an educational lunch for students, including about 40 RAMP youth and another 70 youth in ESGH’s High School/High Tech (HS/HT) program. During the educational lunches, students learned about the various jobs in the restaurant industry and the basic requirements for each position. One group of RAMP students also attended a tour of a One-Stop Career Center, where they learned about the many services available to anyone, including job search assistance, help finding college scholarships, and more.
The Able Trust, the RAMP state coordinator in Florida, developed promotional literature and provided it to RAMP and HS/HT sites to promote DMD activities in their local areas. The RAMP site operated by the Florida Crown Workforce Development Board in Lake City, FL, hosted DMD workshops with veterans and military program recruiters. Youth interested in entering the military after high school met with the veterans and recruiters during a pizza party.
The Independent Living Resource Center of Northeast Florida (ILRC) in Jacksonville, FL, has been planning DMD activities for years. This year they hosted their 4th Annual Professional Mentoring Fair. Open to ILRC’s RAMP and HS/HT youth and others, this DMD event featured workshops for up to 400 youth and adults, including:
- Find Your Fit Within the World of Work: STEM Careers,
- Money Management,
- Business Etiquette,
- Online Job Search/Job Applications, and
- Interviewing Skills/Mock Interviews.
RAMP youth with Families Together in Albany County, NY, learned about employment and postsecondary education during the Disability Mentoring Day activities. The youth spoke with Joe Sposito, a local restaurateur and owner of Giuseppe’s Pizza and Deli in Watervliet, NY. Sposito explained how his business operates, what he looks for in employers, and what makes an employee successful on the job. The youth also spoke with Sylvia Jimison, Associate Academic Dean and Director of the Success Center at Southern Vermont College (SVC). From Jimison, the youth learned about college life, the importance of postsecondary education, and the supports available for students with disabilities in college.
“It was cool seeing that even if I have trouble with math, people are able to support me when I get to college. I feel much better knowing I can apply places and they’ll help,” said one RAMP high school student after learning about SVC’s Success Center.
RAMP youth with Youth Services in Brattleboro, VT, participated in a career exploration worksite visit to Wal-Mart in Hinsdale, NH. During their visit, youth met with experts in the Pharmacy, Lawn & Garden, Bakery, and Electronics departments to learn about working in each of those fields. Students interacted with a variety of staff to explore a range of career options. Two Wal-Mart assistant managers led the worksite visit, one of whom encouraged RAMP youth to submit applications for after-school and summer jobs.
By participating in DMD activities, the RAMP youth gained valuable insights about different careers they may want to explore further. At the same time, they met and learned from experienced professionals who can serve as role models and may even become longer-term mentors. Many RAMP sites have been successful at recruiting employers and their employees to serve as year-long mentors for youth following workplace visits, job shadowing events, and other career exploration activities like DMD.
What did you do for Disability Mentoring Day and what knowledge, skills, and new connections did you gain as a result? Please share your own experiences and stories.
The following are some resources you can use to develop and implement career exploration, work-based learning, and career-focused mentoring activities with all youth anytime of the year:
- Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career-focused Mentoring
- “Engaging Youth in Work Experiences” Innovative Strategies Practice Brief
- “Using Career Interest Inventories to Inform Career Planning” Innovative Strategies Practice Brief
- High School High Tech Program Guide
By Eric Cline, Program Coordinator, National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development.