Workability Program | Tahoe Truckee Unified School District partners with local businesses |

Workability Program | Tahoe Truckee Unified School District partners with local businesses

Photo by Simone GrandmainEvery Thursday, Hampton Inn and Suites Truckee-Tahoe GM Rick Rucker greets Workability employees Shelby Beals and Angel Pedroza.

TRUCKEE/TAHOE, Calif. and#8212; Angel Pedroza walks into the Hampton Inn and Suites in Truckee and is greeted with a high five from General Manager Rick Rucker. and#8220;Don’t forget to clock in,and#8221; reminds Rucker, teasing. Angel, already in uniform and putting on his name tag, never forgets to clock in. He is like every other Hampton Inn employee getting psyched for his work day, with one exception and#8212; Angel has Down syndrome. Bilingual staff members at the Hampton pause to greet him as they go about business and Angel gets down to his own daily work schedule, opening up a large binder which specifically lists his daily job description with a margin to accommodate checks when each task is completed. Nearby, but in the background, Shamarah Lang, Workability Program coordinator for the Truckee Unified School District, observes as the rest of Angel’s crew, all learning disabled, gear up for his or her work day. and#8220;The goal,and#8221; she said, and#8220;is independence.and#8221;

Established in 1981, the Workability Program transitions young adults with special needs out of high school and into the workplace, with businesses like Hampton Inn lending a hand and serving as training points for their students. At the hotel, the workability students/employees assemble breakfast bags, assist housekeeping and the grounds maintenance crews, with job descriptions evolving as their skill levels increase. and#8220;We let them fly,and#8221; said Lynda Burks, Workability Placement specialist. and#8220;We kick them out of the nest and#8212; with a safety net.and#8221;

That safety net is held up by a short, but strong, list in the community. Three days a week, Sierra Community College opens a classroom to the Workability student body at no charge to the organization. Donner Memorial State Park and Sierra Senior Services serve as training sites and#8212; first stops for the program participants and#8212; where they volunteer before entering a paid position at supporting businesses. Along with the Hampton Inn and Suites, Workability employers include Zano’s (a program supporter for more than 10 years), Tahoe Forest Hospice Thrift in Truckee and King’s Beach, High Camp at Squaw Valley, Dr. Ravinale, Nik-N-Willies, CVS and Safeway.-

Placement of the workability employees is well thought out, case-by-case, with job skills and level of skills matched to the individual employer and task. and#8220;It is not an all-or-nothing proposition,and#8221; explains Burks. and#8220;We solicit critique and dialogue from both parties and strive to make it a mutually beneficial and successful employment arrangement.and#8221;-

Sometimes that means going the extra mile and#8212; but that is what the Workability program is all about. One of their students is visually impaired and, as such, is outfitted with a talking watch to ensure he makes the transportation from home to work. Another cannot read and the program facilitators have compiled a job description workbook exactly like the one carried by his peers and co-workers, but with pictures of each step of each assigned task. At the end of the day, the students/employees meet with his or her program teacher and#8212; who is always on-site to oversee the process and#8212; to evaluate the day, going over the positives and discussing room for improvement.-

How successful is the program to date? Ask Angel, a 2011 Truckee High School special education graduate and participant in the Workability program since his freshman year of high school. He is now on-site at the Hampton Inn and Suites Truckee-Tahoe one day each week and collects a paycheck (funded by a TTUSD Workability grant) just like every other hotel employee. Or Shelby Beals, who has been in the program for 18 months, also works at the Hampton, and as a contestant for this year’s SnowFest! Queen raised $5,000 for Sierra Senior Services. Then there’s a recent graduate of the TTUSD Transition Program who is now employed at the Tahoe Forest Hospice Thrift Store in King’s Beach.

and#8220;A great deal of the success of the program as a whole and certainly for the individual depends not just on our training but on the employer/employee relationship,and#8221; said Burks. and#8220;When I walked into the Hampton to propose a working partnership with our organization, the first person I talked to was Rick Rucker, the GM, and he has supported our kids 110 percent from the very beginning, treating them just like part of the team. He has them clock in. They have uniforms. They attend the employee pep talks, are introduced to all the other staff. The whole Hampton team has been wonderful. Our students have blossomed and, in the end, we think Rick has ended up with some good employees.and#8221;

Rucker concurs. and#8220;The whole team here at the Hampton looks forward to Thursdays when the Workabilty van pulls up and the gang emerges full of positive energy and a great attitude.and#8221;

From the banter being thrown around by Rucker and the Workability crew it is obviously a happy fit. and#8220;Angel, where are my breakfast bags?and#8221; asks Rucker.

and#8220;We don’t do those today,and#8221; Shelby reminds him, and, work task book in hand, starts on the assigned daily schedule.

Rucker laughs. and#8220;I would encourage any and all businesses to get aboard this program. The benefits are immeasurable.and#8221;

For more information contact Shamarah Lang, Workability Program Coordinator, at 530-582-2567

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