Last year, Schlitz Audubon collaborated with IndependenceFirst for Disability Mentoring Week. IndependenceFirst offers programs and services to people of all ages with disabilities of all kinds. They also provide programs on disability awareness and access to the general community. During Disability Mentoring Week, IndependenceFirst facilitates job-shadowing opportunities for teens with disabilities.
High school students from Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha County high schools participated in the program this year. Many of the students came to the Center to spend time working with our staff members in animal care, land stewardship, and facilities management. The experience provided beneficial growth opportunities for everybody involved.
Disability Mentoring Week
Disability Mentoring Day is a national program that takes place in October. IndependenceFirst is a local coordinator whose program lasts for a week. Having a week rather than one day makes it easier to arrange job shadows for the students to gain exposure to work in their chosen field.
To participate, high school students, recent graduates, or young college students with a disability are given the opportunity to work in an area in which they are interested. Students must first apply to the program. Once they’re accepted, they get a list of jobs from which they can choose. IndependenceFirst is diligent about finding compatible jobs. When an employer matches the student’s interest, the student can sign up to shadow a mentor with that employer.
Mentoring Students at Schlitz Audubon
Eighty students from the area participated in the program this year, with 12 of them working at the Center. This was Schlitz Audubon’s first time working with IndependenceFirst on this program. It was a great place for students interested in nature, says Kristin Stern, Youth Leadership Coordinator at IndependenceFirst, who arranges the job shadows. “There’s so much to be said about experiential learning. It’s especially valuable for kids with disabilities to learn hands on,” Stern says.
Staff members had a great time showing students different job duties. Jill Macek, Director of Strategic Initiatives, worked with three students in animal care, cleaning animal enclosures and feeding them. The students were new to animal care. Once they became comfortable handling animals like snakes, the day went smoothly. Working in an environment like Schlitz Audubon helped the students gain confidence as well as a new skillset. It allowed them to receive experience with a mentor in a field in which they might eventually find a job.
Benefits for All
Center volunteers and staff enjoy working with new volunteers; sharing knowledge and teaching them the ropes helps existing personnel to develop their skills as well. Joining with IndependenceFirst for Disability Mentoring Week was similar to working with new volunteers. It was a win-win situation for everyone who participated. Schlitz Audubon looks forward to doing it again next year.