More opportunities for students with disabilities
Businesses, civic groups support program
By Angie Landsverk
Students in Waupaca High School’s LIVE program saw new opportunities to work and volunteer in the community.
“Our community is just awesome. They have really opened their arms to us,” said Mary Jo Barden, who is the school’s LIVE educator/transition coordinator.
“LIVE” is an acronym for Lifelong Independent Vocational Education.
The program, which is for 18 to 21 year olds who are intellectually disabled, began at WHS in the fall of 2014.
The reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act mandates school districts to provide transition services for students with disabilities to improve their post-school outcomes.
The LIVE program emphasizes teaching the students skills, including how to maintain an apartment.
That is why a classroom at the high school looks like an apartment.
In that space, students learn how to clean the apartment, do laundry and prepare meals.
There is also an education center for the program, where Barden works on money skills with the students.
Many of the new opportunities for the students are the result of Barden attending meetings of the Waupaca Breakfast Rotary Club.
“The LIVE program was invited to Rotary meetings,” she said. “I went there five times. Each time, I had a student go along and talk about what they do.”
The Rotary Club bought and donated a popcorn maker for the program.
The students make cookies and popcorn for spring and fall sports, working with other student groups, Barden said.
Tim Neuville donated a used van for the program.
The maroon-colored van will eventually have signage on the back window about the program.
During one of Barden’s visits to the Rotary club with a student, Jim Klismet, of Waupaca Mobil, approached her and told her he wanted to work with the program.
Klismet’s son, Jamie, created a position for Carl Anderson, who worked there four hours a week.
“Through Rotary, I made a lot of different connections,” Barden said. “At this year’s open house, Faulks Brothers, Fox Valley Technical College and ThedaCare came up to me and are interested in working with us.”
Mike Koch, owner of Spine and Sport Physical Therapy of Waupaca, worked with the LIVE program for the second year.
This past school year, 19-year-old Craig Staszak worked two hours a week at the business.
He swept the floor, cleaned the equipment, wiped down the mats, changed sheets between patients and also did mailings.
“The gym has never been so clean,” Koch said.
Staszak likes doing physical work and said his favorite job there was mopping the floors.
He used some of the money he earned working there and also at Goodwill to buy himself a treat once in a while.
Staszak is saving money to buy Guitar Hero.
Koch looks forward to having another student work there next school year.
“It’s good to give back,” he said. “I’m blessed with what I have here.”
Barden said she is always looking for new opportunities in the community for students to volunteer or work.
She tries to match the interests of the students with experiences.
Allen Adams volunteered at the Waupaca Area Public Library, where he straightened books.
The students gained more cleaning experience after the Waupaca Area Youth Hockey Association hired LIVE to clean the Expo.
From November through April, the students cleaned the Expo three times a week.
Also new for the students this past school year was the LIVE Luncheon.
On Tuesdays, the students went grocery shopping, and on Thursdays, they did the prep work for the Friday lunch.
“We turned the Community Room (at WHS) into a restaurant,” Barden said. “They serve, cashier, bus and do the clean up.”
Each Friday, they served a main dish, a salad and a dessert.
Staff and the public were able to dine in or order carry outs.
“We asked for reservations. We didn’t always get them. We always planned for more,” Barden said. “There was a lot of great response to this. The staff loved it. We will continue it next year.”
In addition, the students served coffee in the morning.
This summer, they will give back to a group which always donates money to the program.
That group is the local Knights of Columbus council at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Community.
The LIVE students will help with the council’s July 4 chicken barbecue, at South Park in Waupaca.
In addition, the students will do a fundraiser on July 2, at the Manawa Rodeo.
Barden said the program also received donations from the Anthony Family Foundation and from Staszak’s family and friends.
“It’s been good,” she said of the program. “For our second year, I think it’s been just as successful.”