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Program helps prepare students with disablities for workforce

As Crystal Smith watches her students perform various tasks around Vaughan Regional Medical Center, she knows they are getting much needed experience to help them transition from high school to the workforce.

Once a week since January, Smith, who is the school’s transition and behavioral specialist, takes a group of 11 students with various disabilities to the hospital as part of a community-based training program.

The students work in different departments, such as the cafeteria, radiology, respiratory and others.

“I want them to know that they can do it. That’s the purpose of it,” Smith said. “A lot of times when they have never had the opportunity, you don’t know what you can do. Now that they have the opportunity they’re here. They’re actually actively doing this work.”

The training, which is part of the school’s transitional services program, is to help students with disabilities get experience to help them get a job once they graduate high school.

“My goal is wherever my students go I want them to gain the skills so they can be a leg up on someone else that has never been in the hospital and never done these jobs,” Smith said. “They’ve had the opportunity to do these jobs, they’ve learned the skills and they will have the opportunity to get a full-time or part-time job.”

Smith’s students have worked at other places during the program like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but their partnership with Vaughan Regional Medical Center just started this year, and she’s hoping it continues.

“There are a variety of careers here,” Smith said. “So it gives them more opportunities to be able to see that maybe the hospital is not just doctors. The hospital doesn’t just have nurses, but there are so many other positions that they can do if they apply and know how to do the work.”

Antonio Simpson was working in the radiology department Thursday, signing people in as they came in for x-rays.

“I like working at the hospital because it has helped me learn a lot, especially life-wise. You can help people if they ever need help,” Simpson said. “It will help me get a job. It helps students that ever want a job. Your background doesn’t matter. It’ll help you out a lot. It’s definitely helped out my life a lot.”

Javonn Harvelle was helping out in the human resources department, where he helps file paperwork, answer calls and other duties.

“We get good experience from it, and it taught me when I first came about it, and I did it, so I got the hang of it now,” Harvelle said. “Anybody out there that says they can’t do it, they can do it. Just put your mind to it.”

That’s the kind of attitude Smith wants this program to teach her students, and it has. She said she could tell on the first day they started working in the hospital.

“The first day on the job, you should have seen their eyes. The confidence they had that they could work,” Smith said with a smile. “I went back and told everybody. Matter-of-fact, I took pictures so they could see and feel what I felt because they were so excited.”

Smith said they work on essential skills in the classroom all the time, so to see the putting those skills to use means a lot to her.

“Seeing them actually come on the job and do the job, I am just very grateful to be able to see them actually walk out with those things we’ve taught,“ she said.

This month is also Transition Awareness Month for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities, as declared by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. Now, Smith said she is hoping to get more businesses in Selma to partner with the transition services program.

“My desire is for other employers in our community that would collaborate and partner with us in able to make more opportunities for our students,” she said.

Anyone employers interested in collaborating with the program can call Smith at (334) 874-1680, extension 6117.