LITTLE ROCK, AR– Behind the cafeteria counter at Baptist Health Hospital, there’s a bit of prep work that needs to happen. This summer, employees are getting some help from teens who are eager to learn basic work skills.

“They will also learn self-advocacy skills which are very important and then exposure to secondary education and training opportunities that are available to them once they’ve graduated,” says John Baldwin, Easter Seals Director of Center for Training and Wellness.

In collaboration with the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD), the new program is dishing out a serving of opportunities for students with special needs. They’re excited to get real work experience under their belt.

“The students are also paid for the work they perform, so they get that real world work experience and the pride that they’ve actually earned a paycheck,” says Baldwin.

John Baldwin with Easter Seals says this type of program goes a long way and gets students excited about finding a job they enjoy.

“Adults are learning the skills like dining room attending, working in the dish room, working on some of the other prep projects and things throughout the hospital,” says Baldwin.

Before students step foot in a workplace environment, they spend some time in the classroom to go over training.

“They work to try to get at least 10 hours of instruction in to address the required areas and then they go out and do the work component,” says Stephanie Cole, PCSSD Director of Special Education.

Stephanie Cole says as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools are required to help students with special needs with transition plans, and provide job training. Right now, 22 students are enrolled this summer, and many more are expected to be enrolled this following school year.

“We hope that businesses collaborate with us and provide us with those work experiences and hopefully employ these students full time upon graduation,” says Cole.

The steps it’s taken to get here, Program Leaders say has been a long time coming, and hopes to see it grow. For more information about how to get involved with this program, you can call John Baldwin with Easter Seals at 501-227-3600.