Community vocational project scores A-plus Students, businesses gain from work-study program

April 04, 1996|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Chris Noel would be hard pressed to name a job better than the one he has at the Wal-Mart store on Crain Highway.

"It's fun," said the 17-year-old. "I don't want to work anywhere else."

Chris is one of 20 students from the Ruth Parker Eason School who participate in a work-study partnership between the business community and the Millersville school for the developmentally challenged.

Students in the Community Vocational Program work without pay about 10 hours a week, learning how business works and what is expected of employees.

The eight local businesses, in turn, receive free help.

"One of our main goals is to make sure that when they leave us, they have participated in a vocational program that prepares them for something to do," said Jack Malloy, principal of Ruth Eason. "We teach them job skills and social skills needed on the job site."

Mr. Malloy said the program is critical because his students are at a disadvantage even before they enter the work force.

"One of the main barriers is that [people believe] our children don't have the ability to do the job, that they're helpless and they can't contribute," he said. "But they can contribute. They just need some additional support that they may not have."

And support is what they get from employees at Wal-Mart, which has had a four-year relationship with the school.

Craig Lowry, the store's personnel manager, said his workers welcomed the students.

"Before, our people sectionalized themselves and didn't work as a group," Mr. Lowry said. "When we brought the kids here, [they] got protective of them, and [the students] brought everyone together."

Sofia Amador, the women's department manager, said she looks forward to the days when students Tammy Thompson and Robert Mize fold, organize and hang clothes on the floor displays.

"If another department needs them, I don't want to share them, but I do," Ms. Amador said. "I hate to share them because they're so good."

Although Tammy and Robert don't get paid by the store, they do earn a small stipend from the school, said Melinda Spence, the school's vocational experience coordinator. The school also arranges for the students to open savings accounts.

Tammy, 18, said she liked to work at the store to earn enough money to "eat at Boardwalk Fries." Robert, 17, spends his money on oldies tapes such as the Shirelles and Elvis Presley.

The store also hires Ruth Eason graduates. Valerie Seaton, 21, has been working full time at Wal-Mart since last May.

"I like working here, because of the nice people and the nice managers," Ms. Seaton said. "If someone needs help, I can help them."

Pub Date: 4/04/96

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