Impact Feature Issue on Postsecondary Education and Students with Intellectual, Developmental and Other Disabilities

Education for Employment: Mandela's Story


Shelley Paquette is a Service Team Leader with Rise, Inc., Spring Lake Park, Minnesota

Jenilee Drilling is a Service Team Leader with Rise, Inc., Spring Lake Park, Minnesota

The Employment First Anoka County program (EFAC), based in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, was established to further the education and employment options for youth with disabilities. It focuses on assisting students to obtain jobs in the health care field, particularly in the roles of Personal Care Attendant (PCA), Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), and Home Health Aide (HHA). The program was started through a partnership with Anoka Technical College's corporate training department and Rise Inc., an organization that works with people with disabilities and other barriers to employment and housing. The EFAC program staff consist of a certified instructor as well as a student support specialist. The typical class provided by Anoka Technical College is extended in length from 3 weeks to 6 weeks and the days shortened while still meeting the required classroom hours needed for the PCA/CNA/HHA certification. During the classroom portion of the course the student support staff is present on a daily basis to assist with study skills and review, college classroom soft skills, transportation, and other individualized needs. Classroom size is limited to no more than 15 enrollees. Students seeking enrollment are referred by school staff, Minnesota vocational counselors, or county social services. They range in age from 18-24 and currently receive or at one time received educational services guided by an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The students are not required to take any type of entrance exam for the courses offered, though basic reading ability is required.

For this article a young man named Mandela was asked to share his experiences with the program, and describe how it has helped him in preparing for employment. He was referred to the EFAC program by his school's transition staff for the Fall 2009 course. He is identified in his IEP as having a Specific Learning Disability for reading and comprehension. He says that he became interested in the field of health care after one of his uncles died from pancreatic cancer and later his grandmother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He wanted to learn more about the diseases and disorders, their causes, and potential cures. It was noted in the intake process that his long-term goal was at that time to work in medical research. Inquiring as to why he chose to participate in the EFAC course offering of PCA/CNA/HHA, Mandela responded, "You can get in at the ground floor and get a lot of information." He refers to the information and skills that he received in the EFAC courses, mentioning that it "opened my eyes to a variety of jobs. Before, I felt I could only apply to fast-food type jobs and now jobs would be open for me at hospitals and nursing homes. The EFAC program helped me a lot." The student support staff assisted in classes in various ways; specifically for Mandela the supports were mentoring and classroom supports regarding his understanding the course and the instructor's expectations. He also received transportation assistance for the clinical portion of the course, which was located at a local long-term health care facility. Mandela mentioned that he found the instructor for the course very helpful and able to give him the information he needed to further his success.

Mandela is currently participating in a work experience program at a day program for individuals with traumatic brain injuries and has received positive feedback from the coordinator of this program. In our conversation, Mandela expressed his appreciation for the supervision and guidance that he is receiving from the staff during this work experience; though there are no current openings or opportunities for him to be hired at this location, the coordinator has expressed that she will be more than willing to offer a recommendation.

While pursuing his interest in the health care field, Mandela has decided that he would like to further his education. He is currently enrolled at a community college for the courses of Communication and Broadcasting. This is not surprising as he is a very outgoing and social individual who has been told "I have the gift of talking to people." While attending school he plans to continue working in the health care field. Mandela also has the support of the Minnesota State Rehabilitation office for additional needs he may have while attending school or in his future employment endeavors.

Mandela had this advice for others who have barriers to employment: "Don't let nothing stop you or discourage you, stick it through. Whatever you have gone through will only make you wiser and stronger." He added that "You have the responsibility to pursue your dreams – no one else can do it for you." He concluded the interview with this thought: "A caterpillar has to go through the entire cocoon phase by itself. If someone were to break open the cocoon, the butterfly will never be strong enough to fly."