Program linking students with disabilities to work reaches major milestone

Melina Delvecchio, who has neuromuscular disorder, says she's fought through battles of depression and anxiety. Her dream now is to be a veterinarian. 

Autumn Fanarse, who has hemiparesis, has struggled with self-confidence. Now, she's learning to cook. 

Then there's Bradly Welch. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy years ago. For Welch, it was only another hurdle toward job independence which he found at Warren Woods Tower High, where he works as a food service employee.

"It really takes a group of people to feed a whole school," he said, adding that he loves the tasks that now guide his day. "It's not just the job itself, it's more of like the interaction I have with my coworkers and the students."

While Delvecchio and Fanarse are still in high school, Welch is a permanent and paid employee at the district, which was his former school. 

He's also one of 3,000 people who have conquered the scary jump into employment by taking part in a program that pairs students with intellectual and physical disabilities with the lessons and life skills needed for a job.

It's a major milestone for the program.

"It's an amazing group of young people to work with," said Debb Carlton, who works as an occupational therapist at Warren Woods Tower. "They're excited about life, excited about experiences coming their way. They just need experience and exposure so they can see what their opportunities really are."

Securing the needed experience for any job can make entering the labor force a difficult one. It can be a bigger challenge for those that manage other cognitive or mobility issues they have.

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To help those students get the extra help, a program out of Warren Woods Tower has for the past 12 years guided students like Welch into the job market. It's since expanded to 17 high schools around Southeast Michigan.

The program is run by Gesher Human Services.

Internships are a big part of the program with hundreds of students finding work within 30 days of it ending.

"We are in the classrooms teaching them real-life skills, the soft skills they need to be successful and we're providing them with that career exploration so they're able to learn the skills that they'll need to be successful int heir future and plan for what is the next step after high school," said Rene Dell, who does vocational rehabilitation work. 

Gesher is looking for summer job coaches to help with the internships. 

Learn more about the firm and the program here.