Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District: Connecting People, Parks and Nature: Park district work helps high school grads with disabilities prepare for adult life

by Bill Evans14 High school grads w disabilities - 12-13-16

Three young men eagerly filled wheelbarrows and trudged through dirt, spreading wood chips along soft-surface trails at THPRD’s Howard M. Terpenning Recreation Complex at 158th and Walker Road, Beaverton.

There was no complaining and little chatter, just shovels hitting dirt on a cold and wet October morning.

“It’s a great way to learn to get a job,” explained Justin Smith, as willing to talk as he was to work. Smith is enrolled in the Beaverton School District’s Community Transition Program, which provides training for recent high school graduates with disabilities. The program is designed to help them transition seamlessly into adult life.

“Each student pursues individual goals — the things they want when they’re 22-23 years old — and we help them get there,” said Steven Baer, who coordinates the activities of about 20 of the 95 participants in the program. “Do they want to take classes at PCC? Do they want to get a job? Where are they going to live? How are they going to get around?”

For the second straight year, THPRD is supporting the program by providing an opportunity for its participants to get work experience as volunteers. This school year, four CTP students are assisting maintenance crews at HMT and a fifth works at the Tualatin Hills Athletic Center.

“The students are treated just like employees that work there, and I think that’s one reason it’s so valuable for our students,” Baer said.

Adam Fiedler is exuberant about the work he’s doing for THPRD.

“When THPRD partnered with our CTP, I wanted to do it in a heartbeat,” Fiedler said. “Get me signed up and ready, and get me going!”

Baer said that any BSD student with a modified diploma or alternative certificate is eligible for special education services through the school year in which they turn 21. Last year, 12 of the 18 students who exited the program left with jobs in place.

“The kids have great energy, and they’re excited about the new things they get to do,” said THPRD’s Trask Henningsen.

“It feels good to get that first paying job,” added Jack Kavulich, also of THPRD. “When they can buy that burger and milkshake with their own money, it tastes a lot better.”