Jobs Help Students Become Part of Community

Jobs Help Students Become Part of Community

(ARA)- During a family trip in the fall of 1990, the world changed for Sue and Rick Lewis and their family. While they were visiting relatives, their son Ben, a healthy, active five-year-old, started experiencing seizures, lapsed into a coma and suffered severe brain injury.
Ben spent five weeks in a hospital three hours from home. There were many days when doctors didn't know if Ben would recover; at one point, he was pronounced dead. When it came time to discharge Ben and move him to a rehabilitation hospital in their hometown of Iowa City, Sue thought the hardest part was over.
But as they left the hospital, Ben's doctor told her, "The most difficult part of your journey is just beginning." "After all we had been through, I didn't see how that could be true," says Sue. But she quickly learned that for Ben to live the best possible life, she and Rick would have to take charge of finding the people and resources to make that happen.
Through trial and error, Sue and Rick have become experts on being advocates for Ben--while also raising three other children. Life planning for Ben is always a work in progress, Sue explains. "We started planning for high school when he was still in junior high, and when he entered high school, we were already thinking about life after graduation."
One of the Lewis' big hopes was for Ben to someday work in the community. As they began searching for a way to make this happen, they encountered the High School Super Senior transition program. Super Seniors provides career planning assistance, job shadows and internships for students with disabilities to help them find the job of their dreams. "We help students find a job that matches their skills and interests, learn it and keep it," says Dr. John Nietupski, director of the Iowa program.
Ben is now 20, lives independently in a group home, works at a local pharmacy and is ecstatic about a second job that he recently started at a local coffee house. He is so popular with customers that when he is on vacation, they constantly ask his boss where he is and when he's coming back. "Even through the really tough times, we never gave up hope that we would make Ben's life a happy and productive one," says Sue. "He has become part of the community."
Judy Warth, a Super Senior Employment Specialist who served Ben, said. "Ben's situation proves that magic can happen when parents and programs work together."
Super Seniors can help other communities establish similar programs through site visit opportunities, phone or e-mail consultation, written materials and funding ideas. For more information, contact John Nietupski at (800) 332-8488, x6442 or via e-mail at Jnietupski@aea10.k12.ia.us.

Courtesy of ARA Content