Students grow, explore with summer jobs

The summer Transition to Work program gives students job experience at many sites, including pet-care businesses.

Kaled Soufi cannot communicate verbally, so his family relies on his expressions and reactions. And there was never any mistaking how the 19-year-old felt about his experience in this summer’s Transition to Work program.
“So happy,” said his older sister, Sana. “He was super excited when we dropped him off in the morning, and at night, he was the one getting his backpack ready. It actually took a while for him to accept when it was over.”
Transition to Work – known as TTW to families and staff – is an employment exploration program open to transition-age teens and young adults served by the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Coordinated by FCBDD and operated by the disability-service nonprofit Hattie Larlham, TTW is based at West Central School but takes place throughout the county.
Students get a chance to try a variety of community job settings, from restaurants and rec centers to doggie day cares, food pantries and more. Discovery specialists, many of them teachers during the school year, guide the students and keep families informed with regular messages and photos.
“We’re assessing their interest in work, and their ability,” said Jeff Judd, a Columbus teacher and father of an adult son with autism. “We create a ‘discovery profile’ for every student because every student is different. I come at this from a professional and a parent perspective, and I can tell you, it’s a fantastic program.”
Judd is the program’s longest-serving discovery specialist, and he vows to sign up each summer “for as long as they’ll have me. We have the best time.”
Dozens of central Ohio businesses and nonprofit organizations participate, offering hands-on experience that helps students and families decide whether to aim for another year of TTW, a different type of program, or move on to community employment. Local businesses such as Rusty Bucket restaurants “have been so exceptional,” said Laura Gregory of Hattie Larlham. “They make our students a real part of things. Experiences like this can really set them up for long-term success.”
Kaled’s mom, Maria Soufi, said she hopes more families learn about the benefits of TTW. “Watching videos of Kaled working in different settings, following Mr. Judd’s instructions, and enjoying the praise when he completed a task, filled our hearts with joy and hope,” she wrote in a message to program administrators.
She and her daughter, Sana, saw Kaled develop confidence. That, in turn, eases some of the anxiety they have felt about Kaled’s transition from school to adulthood. “He showed that he can do it,” Soufi said. “He has a future and we know he can do well.”

Many students learned food-prep skills at area restaurants during the summer Transition to Work program.