Learning to work independently; working to learn independently.
Katrina and Alec are part of a team from Oak Park and River Forest High School who come to our Maywood offices every month through the CITE (Community-Integrated Transition Education) Program. The goal of the program is to create a smooth transition from school to post-school activities, so that students with disabilities who have completed four to five years of a high school program may successfully participate in his/her community as an adult.
After the group of students arrive, they meet in the conference room with their support staff and Gail Zemel, a longtime Housing Forward volunteer who first suggested the partnership. After a few brief words, the team of young people spread out and tackle different areas needing attention. Because Housing Forward is a non-profit with a tight operating budget, we do not employ a large cleaning service. Instead, a small outside crew clean floors and bathrooms, and general staff is responsible for maintaining clean work spaces, emptying wastebaskets, doing their own dishes and cleaning out the fridge. As you can imagine, a consistent level of cleanliness is difficult to maintain. As a matter of fact, when the CITE participants first came, they couldn’t always find brooms or dustpans, so they went to the store, bought several, and gifted them to the agency. They also supply us with the brands of cleaning products they prefer, and recently they asked what else might be needed. When it was mentioned that we were running low on diapers in the Support Center, our OPRFHS friends returned the next month with a generous donation of diapers in various sizes.
Recently some of the older plumbing infrastructure in our building was repaired which did not go unnoticed by Katrina on kitchen duty. “I’m glad you fixed the water,” she said with a smile. “I’ve been worried for a while that it never got hot enough to make sure everything was really getting clean.”
You can always tell when the group is in the building by the fresh, clean aroma wafting through the hallways, and the rare sound of a vacuum. There is also a plan to help organize and inventory our donations.
Housing Forward and other partner sites benefit from collaborating with CITE participants by being given the chance to get acquainted with new faces---both students and support services staff. Program members benefit from regularly being in a work environment where they can learn what to expect once they transition fully out of a school setting. In addition to gaining life skills, they become more comfortable interacting with, and taking direction from co-workers, and we hope they feel the satisfaction of knowing they are making a very valuable contribution within their community.
The Warriors from Opportunity Knocks in River Forest also regularly spend time in our offices and we are truly grateful to both groups for working alongside us.