Connecting students with employers is a key role for teachers at Great Oaks campuses, and developing a good relationship with a business can take some time. For Laurel Oaks CareerX instructor Kelly Keeton, though, it turned out to be a matter of stopping at a place she drove past regularly.
“Kelly just knocked on our door one day,” said Robyn Long Esmail of Vision Media. “She wanted to know what we do here.” As Keeton and the Vision Media team talked, it quickly became apparent that they could help each other. Not long after, Keeton brought her students out for a visit.
Keeton teaches workplace and professional skills to students with special needs through the CareerX program.
Vision Media, located just behind the Laurel Oaks campus in Wilmington, is a distribution center with multiple national clients.
Now, a few months later, the two stand with a group of students along with Vision Media staff in the Vision Media warehouse. They’re discussing a recent job in which the students assembled 3,000 packets a day for Vision’s largest client. “When we first met,” said Kelly Keeton, “I said ‘Just give us a try. This partnership may not succeed, but just give us a chance.’”
Vision Media’s warehouse supervisor Vince Freeman and warehouse lead Brad Smith said after a slow start the first day or two, the students developed a routine that made them quick and efficient. “They kept me busy bringing materials to them,” said Smith.
Through this work and an Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities grant, many of the students got the first paycheck of their lives. “We encouraged the students to shoot for a goal with the money, and we also talked about budgeting and living expenses.” The students’ goals ranged from modest—a fast food meal—to broad, being able to live independently. “My parents told me that it’s my turn to take them out to dinner,” laughed one student.
The Vision Media connection continues; the students are currently spending four days a week assembling kits for a major client – which will eventually ship to consumers throughout the U.S. “Every business that opens the opportunity for people with disabilities to practice job skills and understand real employment requirements provides a step forward for the students’ future,” said Keeton. “In this case, the students understand assembly line skills and production needs because Vision Media let them try the job.”
The Career X students also work with other business partners, as well. From learning hotel housekeeping skills at the Roberts Centre to hand tool skills thanks to the staff at Home Depot, the CareerX students are preparing for life. “We’ve never had an employer turn us away,” said Keeton. “They’re interested in our students, always asking what more they can do to help.”