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Local youth develop employment skills, build community connections through SAIL

HOUGHTON — This summer in Houghton and Keweenaw counties, Superior Alliance for Independent Living, Disability Network of the Upper Peninsula (SAIL), the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) – Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS), and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) partnered together to provide paid work-based learning experiences for local area youth who identify as living with a disability. It can be challenging for a student to identify potential career fields that match his/her interests and abilities, especially for students living with a disability and who may have limited work experience. This work based learning program provides the opportunity for these students to learn skills in a supportive environment, network with community businesses, and gain insight into the type of work they may want to pursue in the future, all of which will assist them in finding and maintaining a job after high school.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic provided new challenges to the coordination and implementation of the program this summer, local businesses and agencies were determined and excited to partner with SAIL again this summer to provide this opportunity to local youth. All participants completed appropriate safety training regarding COVID-19 that was congruent with the CDC and State of Michigan guidelines. All participants and sites were also provided with appropriate PPE to use to clean hands and equipment. Participants were instructed to remain socially distant as much as possible at the work sites and were provided with disposable masks to use as required. Despite all of these new guidelines, the students remained dedicated to working out in their communities with positive attitudes and energy.

The work based learning program offered students the opportunity to develop employability skills that have prepared them for entering the workforce after completing school. These skills included time management, organization, problem solving, communication, conflict resolution, teamwork, and leadership. For many students, this opportunity was their first job and allowed them to gain valuable experience that they can include on their resumes. For others, this was their second or third summer in the program, which allowed them to either gain additional work experience in a different environment or take on a leadership role at the same site they worked at previously.

There were a total of 7 job sites within the area communities that agreed to partner with SAIL and MRS who provided the work based learning experiences. In total, there were 24 students who worked at the following sites: three for the City of Houghton, four at Hancock High/Elementary School, two at the City of Hancock, four at Calumet High School, two for the Village of Calumet, four for McLain State Park, and six for Twin Lakes State Park. Their duties ranged from tasks in the categories of cleaning/janitorial, landscaping, maintenance, and manual labor.

Superior Alliance for Independent Living, Disability Network of the Upper Peninsula (SAIL) assists individuals with disabilities and promotes accessible Upper Peninsula communities for all. SAIL serves all 15 counties of the Upper Peninsula and provides a wide range of services that assist people with disabilities in gaining independence and preparing to enter the workforce. For more information about SAIL, contact 1-906-228-5744 or visit SAIL’s website at: www.upsail.org.

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