Special needs students work at the senior center | SierraSun.com

Special needs students work at the senior center

Colin FisherNorma Bravo, left, and Chanel Deas restock the kitchen supplies after lunch at the Senior Center this week.

For the casual observer, Norma Bravo has changed tremendously in the last year.

When she started working at the Truckee Senior Center, she didn’t talk much. She would go about her job: washing, drying and stocking plates before and after the lunch rush.

Lisa Furr, Bravo’s teacher with the Tahoe Truckee High School Transition Program for adults with special needs, says Bravo “has blossomed” in one year on the job. Bravo has always worked hard, but now she’s much more talkative.

Even the seniors at the center have noticed.

“They’re doing a good job,” said Jean Patrick, who lives in the Truckee Donner Senior Apartments. “Especially that one right there,” she says, smiling and pointing at Bravo. Bravo smiles back from her post stocking plates.

Now, 21-year-old Bravo trains her peers in the senior center kitchen.

In high school special education, students can stay with the program until they’re 22 years old. Furr started the transition program at Tahoe Truckee High School as a way to get older students off the high school campus and into the community.

The students work three days a week in the senior center and one, three-hour shift elsewhere in the community.

“I see a lot more growth in them than if we just sat in the classroom,” Furr said.

This year Furr and Melanie Kauffman, executive director of the Truckee Tahoe Seniors Council, formed an agreement to allow all of the Transition Program students to help in the kitchen.

“If we didn’t have this help in the kitchen, we would not be able to operate,” Kauffman said. “We need this kind of community support.”

Furr added, “To me, it’s the perfect match.”

The students are placed in jobs that are appropriate for their level of independence and skills. In the kitchen, Rene Garcia works on various tasks, like cleaning trashcans and heavy lifting.

In the senior center office, Erin Freeman and Dawn Knez answer the telephone and work on the computer.

The women work fairly independently, taking messages and writing thank-you letters, without much help from their teachers.

Knez said she wants to volunteer at Truckee Elementary School as a teacher’s aide.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, so it gets me somewhere,” she said.

Each week, Furr and Transition Program job coach Evelyn Foster, review the students on what they’re doing well and what they can improve, so the students can take practical information to their jobs in the community.

“The goal for me is for my students to be productive citizens in the community,” Furr said. “No matter what level.”

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