By Jeremy Gilchrist
Life after high school. You remember. It’s one of those things that can make the teen years tough. Just ask a teenager. Add to that a disability, and anxieties can become magnified.
Allegheny County high school students with vision impairments or other disabilities have a place to go for help. Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh’s Employment Opportunities Project (EOP) is a transition program that provides students with the tools, training and experience they will need to leave high school and succeed in college or the workforce.
Students involved in EOP have access to a mix of job readiness classes, community work experiences, job shadowing, job placement, and mentoring. They receive specialized guidance that is not available to them through other means. Additionally, through their participation in the program, students form networks and relationships with other students and adults that span Allegheny County and beyond. The support and confidence that grow from involvement in a strong community is truly priceless for these teens.
One such student is Jasmine, who completed the program in June. Last January, Jasmine began working in textile production at PBA Industries, the manufacturing and assembly division of BVRS. She is kind, hard working, and has a great sense of humor. She is also quiet — or she used to be. Shortly after taking the job, Jasmine began participating in staff meetings and started to take a greater role advocating for herself at work as well as in her personal life. Jasmine recently celebrated her first anniversary as an employee, and continues to grow more confident and independent.
Nate is a current EOP participant. He is a senior in high school and plans to attend college this fall. Two years ago, Nate entered the program with some trepidation, unsure of how much he wanted to participate. After his first week, however, Nate was already assuming the mantle of student leader. He is very vocal, never hesitating to ask questions or probing the possibilities and challenges he will face in the future as he becomes more independent. He has become an active participant in the Golden Triangle Council of the Blind, a local advocacy group, and attended a statewide convention on their behalf this fall.
For both Jasmine and Nate, validation was among the intangibles they have taken from EOP. With their new found abilities to work and provide for themselves and participate in active peer support circles, they have come to feel valued and that their opinions are worthwhile.
Pretty impressive for teenagers.
Jeremy Gilchrist is the coordinator of the Employment Opportunities Project at Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh (BVRS). A 103-year-old private nonprofit, BVRS has been a leader in programs and services for people of all ages who are blind, vision impaired or have other disabilities. We believe in independence through rehabilitation. Our mission is to change the lives of persons with vision loss and other disabilities by fostering independence and individual choice. We offer comprehensive and personalized computer instruction, employment and vocational services, personal adjustment to blindness and deaf blindness training, independence skill building, in-home instruction, and low vision services for persons with vision loss. BVRS is a United Way Impact Fund Award for Excellence Agency and is accredited by The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving People with Blindness or Vision Impairments (NAC). For more information, visit www.BlindVR.org.