State parks, residents benefit from youth workers.

August 6, 2019

State parks, residents benefit from youth workers.

If you have had the pleasure of visiting one of Michigan’s State Parks this summer, you may have noticed a crew in lime green shirts working together beautifying the park.

For the seventh consecutive year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources – Parks and Recreation Division, Michigan Rehabilitation Services and the West Shore Educational Service District (ESD) have partnered to provide paid job training experiences for students with disabilities.

The project’s long-term goal is to support students with disabilities in obtaining training and employment so they can develop the skills required to maintain employment as adults – after leaving the educational system.

Preparing students for career readiness is an important role for schools, and the West Shore ESD supports the schools with that role through this project. The West Shore ESD maintains an agreement with Michigan Rehabilitation Services to provide employment preparation and support to students after leaving school.

West Shore ESD Transition Coordinator Teresa Root and Michigan Rehabilitation Services Counselor Tiffany Schafer work together to develop opportunities for students with disabilities, while in school, to develop work skills that will carry over into adulthood and also benefit local employers. The agency collaboration is vital for students, families and community growth.

Students work in a group setting with adult instruction, with the primary goals of developing employability skills, learning specific job skills and task completion.

“I’ve observed the students developing important life skills of getting along with each other and learning how to following orders well,” says Jim Bowen, one of the Work-Based Learning Trainers.

During this eight-week project, students clean fire pits, shovel sand, pick up trash, paint, rake, remove invasive species, realign fencing, and complete other jobs the park requests of them. They also practice the essential skills required for long-term employment, including dependability, punctuality, positive attitude, cooperation, problem-solving and teamwork.

“How rewarding it is to work hard and get the job done right,” said Mason County Central student Bryce Luevano.

This year’s local project includes 14 students who earn $9.45 an hour for eight weeks, June 17 through Aug. 8. It includes three state parks – Ludington, Charles Mears in Pentwater and Silver Lake. Each park has one work site trainer.

This year’s youth workers are students from Ludington, Hart, Shelby, Pentwater, Mason County Central, Mason County Eastern, Gateway to Success and the West Shore ESD.

“This is a win-win partnership,” said Ludington State Park Supervisor Dan Adams, who has welcomed the opportunity to partner since the program began in 2013. “Thanks to this program, we can complete more projects during the summer months because it frees up my staff to do jobs the students can’t.”

The state gains from well-maintained parks and the community gains from a trained workforce. Forty four state parks are participating in this type of project from the UP to the most southern corners of the state.