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DHS news release

September 1, 2004

Contact: Nadine Jelsing (503) 945-5950

Story length: 580 words


Little-known program helps students with disabilities succeed

"A young man in Tillamook County was essentially illiterate. But he lived and breathed auto body. That's all he wanted to do - auto body. It wasn't our job to discourage that - it was our job to accommodate that."


Clayton Rees coordinates the Youth Transition Program, or YTP, for the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS). He says it's all about turning a young person's passion -- like auto body -- into a blueprint for success.


"We helped this young man learn occupational reading skills," remembers Rees, "skills that were germane to his job -- like reading a repair manual. He didn't have to understand how a noun and verb are arranged properly. He only had to know how the pieces of a car fit together. We developed a program for him in an auto body shop -- and he learned auto body repair, a job he still holds after more than seven years."


Federally financed, YTP is a service of DHS, the University of Oregon and the Oregon Department of Education. School districts wishing to participate submit proposals to DHS and commit matching dollars to help pay for a transition specialist in the school.


The goal is to help students with disabilities transition from school to paid, competitive employment, post-secondary education and/or independent living.


The first step? Help students identify vocational goals. "Some schools have a student store, for example, or a coffee cart where students can sample the business world," Rees says. "Students also visit community colleges and vocational schools, and learn basic skills like filling out an application and writing a resume."


Although the transition specialist helps coordinate the program, Rees says, the students drive the process -- their interests, skills and preferences are incorporated directly into their individual plans.


Individual plans help identify services students will need to carry out their employment plans, such as transportation, work clothing, on-the-job training or interpretive services.


Rees says part of YTP's success hinges on parent involvement: "I recall a person who had cerebral palsy and he was not regarded as someone with competitive skills. In fact, some who worked with him believed the best he could hope for would be to shred papers in a sheltered workshop.


"But his mother insisted that he receive educational and work opportunities. As a result, he completed high school and received employment assistance through the YTP in his school. Today he's working for $10 an hour at a bookstore running books through a scanner."


After a student graduates, the YTP team provides follow-up support for up to two years. "We want to see these kids engaged -- working at least 30 hours a week, taking additional credit hours or in some kind of training," Rees says.

A national study of high school students with disabilities says 47 percent drop out without graduating but, among Oregon YTP students, 90 percent leave high school with a diploma.


Nationally, only 46 percent of youth with disabilities are employed two years after leaving school, compared with 71 percent of Oregon's YTP participants.


"These are very impressive figures," says Lu Ann Anderson of the Oregon Department of Education. "This program is a good thing for kids -- and a good thing for Oregon's economy."


"YTP allows kids to understand they have options," says Rees. "They know that there are jobs out there they can do. And, bottom line, if they're employed as a youth, they're more likely to stay employed through their adult years.

"We're making a difference in a young person's life -- and that's wonderful."