Program helping disabled students find work locally

State agency gives young adults job training, housing assistance

Twenty-four-year-old Patricia Clymer has enjoyed every day of her first year as a home health aide for Comfort Keepers in Grand Junction.

That joy would not have been possible without the help of the local School to Work Alliance Program, Clymer said.

The statewide program’s Grand Junction branch combines support from District 51 with support and funding from the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to teach 16- to 25-year-olds with mild or moderate disabilities that may hinder their job prospects how to find and keep a job.

The 14-year-old program connects young adults with housing, food and vocational resources; offers job placement and career development assistance; and tracks clients for up to one year after they’re hired to make sure they’re keeping up with job demands.

Clymer was one of 150 to 200 clients each year who went through the local program, which is based year-round at The Career Center. She practiced interviewing skills, learned how to make a personal budget, and received job-placement help from SWAP between June 2010 and September 2012. After a couple interviews, she landed her job at Comfort Keepers.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this if they hadn’t given me the confidence and abilities I have,” she said.

Jenny Barker went through the program between October 2011 and March 2013. She has worked as a courtesy clerk at Safeway since December but still hears from SWAP Coordinator Donna Whetstone on a regular basis.

“I liked how she wouldn’t give up on me even though I wanted to. She helped me get clothes, a bus pass, and look for a job,” Barker said.

Mike Sidanycz, manager at Safeway on Horizon Drive, said he tries to hire clients from SWAP whenever possible.

“They appreciate the job, they appreciate the opportunity,” he said.

The job expectations are the same for SWAP clients as they are for any other employee, Sidanycz said. SWAP employers are not allowed to ask what disability a client has and it’s often hard to tell they have one, according to Safeway District Coordinator Deanne Elliott. Their appreciation, though, is obvious.

“They show up on a continual basis, they’re reliable, they do the best they can,” Elliott said.

Safeway was honored along with other local businesses Wednesday morning at a SWAP appreciation breakfast at The Career Center. Whetstone said the program places students with about 50 different employers in a typical year. The number is high, she said, due to a diversity of client interest and because the program will continue to place students in different jobs until they stay for at least 90 days.


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