When it comes to finding employment, many face challenges and obstacles to overcome.
Career Chat Camp is specifically designed by the Idaho Department of Labor to help youth with disabilities – ages 16 to 24 – overcome challenges and obstacles of finding employment. The weeklong camps cover skill building, job readiness and career exploration.
“Throughout the week we discovered various personal challenges the youth faced including homelessness, disabilities, illiteracy and many more,” said Rachel Piepmeyer, a disability resource coordinator with the Idaho Department of Labor. “These challenges play a significant role in their thoughts on work and success.”
The camp’s Boise pilot, which took place in early August and was supported by many area businesses and organizations, served as a successful kickoff to what will now be an ongoing program. Topics range from finding entry level jobs and filling out applications, to interviewing and identifying habits for success.
“Our goal was to connect kids and expose them to different businesses and work,” said Piepmeyer. “We want to prepare them for work and learning about jobs they didn’t know existed.”
During the Boise pilot, area businesses including Western Power Sports, Boise Airport, Scentsy, The Grove Hotel and Boise State University hosted behind-the-scenes tours to highlight the variety of jobs that exist.
“It was a great way to get the students in the back door so they can see the types of things they can do,” said Julie Sherry, a disability resource coordinator with the Idaho Department of Labor.
Each of the five days begins with presentations from local employment professionals. From there, students travel by bus to area businesses for tours and information. By the end of the week, students are equipped with a new set of skills and sense of confidence.
“All of the kids (at the Boise camp) had disabilities, and many of them have been kicked down a lot in life. Every day they were just more and more confident and asking the employers questions,” Sherry said. “It was really cool to see them identify a job and say ‘I can do that.’”
Participants are given many chances to give feedback on what they learned throughout the week. Students fill out surveys and participate in exercises on what work means. They also are given an opportunity to reflect on their own strengths as well as the strengths of their peers.
On the last day of the Boise camp, Dan Long, facilitator for Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, spoke to participants about traits of successful people.
“The thing they all have in common is they are ‘good finders.’ They find good in themselves, they find good in others, they find good with what they’re doing,” Sherry said. “At the very end the students look at themselves and what’s good about themselves.”
After identifying their own strengths, students are encouraged to write down the strengths of their peers. At the end of the Boise camp, while giving out certificates of completion, Sherry read the good traits aloud for the group to hear.
“Oh my gosh, if you want to see beaming, they were just huge,” Sherry said. “It was an incredible moment and they were just so excited to hear that.”
Feedback from the participants was positive, and, in most cases, participants walked away with a new idea of what work means.
“It really motivated these kids to want to work,” Sherry said. “We had one kid who wanted to work at the airport and he’s working at the airport right now.”
While the camp concludes at the end of the week, Idaho Department of Labor staff strives to keep the connection with participants. For students not already connected to Workforce Investment Act-supported services or vocational rehabilitation, staff members reach out after the camp to help initiate these connections.
“They can continue so it’s not just that we do it for a week and then drop them off,” Sherry said. “We find out where they want to go, and help them make it happen.”
Meridian held its own Career Chat Camp during October, and with 14 participants, saw equal success. Cascade held a shortened version of Career Chat Camp called Cascade Career Days in November and Boise held a Career Chat Camp specifically for students with disabilities who are part of STEP (Student Transition Education Program) in December.
– Tabitha Bower, firstname.lastname@example.org