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Special needs students prepare for workforce (video)

By Carolina Astrain
Nov. 7, 2013 at 5:07 a.m.
Updated Nov. 8, 2013 at 5:08 a.m.

Caryl Todd, activity director with La Villa Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, grabs Victoria West senior Ashley Green, 19, in a hug, congratulating her as students with the special needs training program leave the nursing home for the day. The students in the training program spent some time with Todd learning how to work with the residents. "They (the students) lit up their life, too," Todd said.

THE NEXT STEP

We asked the four graduates what they'd like to do after high school graduation. These were their responses:

• Lauren Freeman, 20: "I want to work at the rehab center. I'm comfortable here."

• Corey Kalmus, 18: "I want go to the University of Texas at San Antonio and play basketball."

• Jesse Rodriguez, 18: "I want to work at H-E-B."

•  Ashley Green, 19: "Pizza Hut. I can take orders."

Ashley Green giggled as she was handed a graduation certificate from Victoria Mayor Paul Polasek on Thursday afternoon.

"I love this," Green, 19, said. "It's wonderful."

Green was one of four special needs students from Victoria West High awarded a certificate of accomplishment after taking part in a four-week Building Communities workforce preparation training program at La Villa Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center.

West students Jesse Rodriguez, Lauren Freeman and Corey Kalmus also were recognized for completing the program.

Rodriguez, 18, who wore a black leather jacket at the ceremony, posed with his teachers and the mayor for photographs after the ceremony.

"It's been good," said Rachel Ortiz, 41, Rodriguez's mother, before the Thursday afternoon ceremony. "I'm proud of him for accomplishing his goal."

In his speech, Polasek told the students to maintain a cool head when confronted with challenges.

"It takes a lot of patience to be in the workforce," Polasek said. "It's important to wade through it all to reach your objective."

The Building Communities partnership began as a collaborative effort between La Villa, the Victoria school district, Amazing Grace Consultants and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.

Pastor Larry Green, the owner of Amazing Grace Consultants, chaplain of Hospice of South Texas and founder of God's Church of Restoration, also spoke during the ceremony.

"Sometimes, people don't want to work with people with special needs," the pastor said. "And it's a shame because these young people here have a heart to work."

This was the partnership's pilot program, said Mary Jane Arredondo, La Villa administrator.

The students qualified after being identified as high-functioning special needs students able to learn new skills, Arredondo said.

"We wanted to work with a small group of students to see how it was going to work out," Arredondo said. "We're planning on opening it up to more students."

During the pastor's speech, Freeman gave one of her fellow graduates a high-five.

"It took a lot of different parts to make it work," the pastor said. "I'd like to see other businesses wanting to work with not just high school students but with all people with special needs or disabilities."

Ashley Green's grandfather, Robert Pfeil, stood next to her, beaming with pride.

"I'm very proud of her," Pfeil said. "For the last two years, she's been talking about working."

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