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Sandy Journal

Teens study life skills through Peer Connection Discovery program

May 25, 2018 01:33PM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

Teens learn social skills in a professional environment through the Peer Connections Discovery program. (Janet Wade)

By Keyra Kristoffersen | [email protected]

Teens with trouble in social communication are being offered the opportunity to gain vocational skills through the Easter Seals-Goodwill programs.

“It’s a really rich program for the students to really start developing their pathway so they can see where they’re going after high school,” said Janet Wade, senior director of family support and transition programs for Easter Seals-Goodwill of the Northern Rocky Mountains.

The Peer Connections Discovery program is available thanks to a grant through Vocational Rehabilitation. They work with families of students ages 14 to 21 who have barriers or perceived barriers to educational and work opportunities during and after high school. They meet with each family’s student to get a sense of who they are, their capabilities, and pull out three main areas of vocational theme and interest. Rather than simply being placed in any available job, these themes will help guide teens and families toward opportunities based on what is available throughout the community.

Through informational interviews with employers about jobs available, skills and education required and how the employer got to be where they are, students get an idea of the job landscape. They find what jobs are accessible and what training is needed to move into that line of employment with disabilities such as autism, cystic fibrosis and other issues that can impede vocational success. This could include social communication and physical limitations. 

“There’s a perception that work might not be an option for some people, but work is an option for everybody,” Wade said. “They are very capable and can be very successful.”

Part of the Peer Connections Discovery program has students volunteering at the Living Planet Aquarium in Draper with a peer. They do the job that any other volunteer would be doing and are not distinguishable from any other volunteer there, but the peer present is helping to model the professional behavior of showing the patrons around and explaining the exhibits.

“That's the way to practice those social skills that they really need to be successful in employment,” said Wade. “They get the opportunity to be in a work-like environment to practice those skills and then my counselors work with the family and the students to develop and find out those vocational things that the students might be interested in.”

The Peer Connections Discovery program also has partnerships with the Leonardo Museum, Thanksgiving Point and Goodwill stores to help find the right match for each student.

In addition to helping teens, the Sandy center offers classes for children ages 3 to 6 years old called the Wiggly Work Sensory Class, which works on sensory issues through a summer session as well as a Lego club and music therapy classes. Since they also share a building with truDigital Signage, the opportunity for students interested in computers to learn more has also arisen.

“We help them understand that there are better opportunities out there, then we can help set them on the right course,” said Wade. 

The Provo location has an early intervention program for children birth to 3 years old with disabilities and developmental delays, and there are locations in Washington County, as well.

Easter Seals-Goodwill has been around for 10 years and recently moved from the Children’s Center in downtown Salt Lake to a new location in Sandy to better serve the many families they work with between Salt Lake and Utah Counties, especially since so many families were traveling from Sandy. The official open house was in January 2018. 

“Some kids think they can’t have friends or have a social life — life looks a lot brighter when they realize otherwise,” Wade said.