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Sisters of Providence “employ” special education students

Thursday is my favorite day of the week. It peps me up knowing the weekend is still to come. But when my favorite day of the week includes inspirational young people, well, that’s just the icing on the high school graduation cake!

Congratulations West Vigo High School seniors Dustin, Jordan, Erika and Jessica for completing the work training skills program!

Congratulations West Vigo High School seniors Dustin, Jordan, Erika and Jessica for completing the work training skills program!

Last Thursday was extra special because I attended a celebration at Idle Creek Banquet Center in Terre Haute recognizing the 53 Vigo County high school seniors who completed their work skills training program. The official name is Covered Bridge Special Education District Community Work Skills Training Program. Each student interviews for a job in the community with collaborating employers.

Four of those students have spent this school year working with the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Dustin Green and Erika Herrick have been working at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, Jessica Herrick worked in Environmental Services and Jordan Ames worked in Food Services.

I attended the luncheon with White Violet Center’s Associate Director Robyn Morton, who is Dustin and Erika’s supervisor. The first thing Robyn said as we arrived was, “I want to see my kids. I’m going to find my kids.” With that, she was over photographing them with her phone and telling them how proud she was of them. They were all smiles.

It was cool seeing them in this setting — dressed up and surrounded by their peers, teachers and administrators — among the fancy table linens, graduation cakes and 2016 decorations.

Student speakers

Dustin giving the Moment of Thanks before the meal.

Dustin giving the Moment of Thanks before the meal.

Then the cool stuff started happening. Dustin presented the “Moment of Thanks” before the meal. He walked up to the podium and slowly said the words I bet he had practiced and practiced in anticipation of that day. He did a great job.

Throughout the banquet there were student speakers who were introduced and spoke in their own words. One of those speakers was Jordan! THIS is what he said:

“When I started this program my junior year I was scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t make it in the real world. The longer I was at my training site, the harder I pushed myself for success. To the people I have worked with and my teachers that got me here, I say Thank You for the motivation and the times you’ve helped me to see that I can succeed. I remember the job I had at St. Mary’s. In my interview I was nervous, stressed and thought I didn’t have the skills for the job. But as the days and months went by, I’ve became the same as my co-workers. Just be positive and positive things will happen to you. This program has helped me overcome my stress around a large amount of people. Before the work program I didn’t function around others, but because of my experience in this program I’ve adapted better social skills in a public place and I am faster at working then I used to be.”

Jordan was one of the student speakers during the works skills training senior banquet last week.

Jordan was one of the student speakers during the work skills training senior banquet last week.

It brought tears to my eyes. I was inspired.

What others said about them

When I got back to the office, I briefly shared this experience with one of Jordan’s co-workers, Donna Kerns, Food Services staff member.

“At first he was kind of backwards and just kind of stood there. But he’s really progressed well. He even jokes around with us now. He’s really come out of his shell,” Donna said.

Sisters of Providence Food Services Production Manager Pat Bowen said Jordan is a blessing.

“Jordan has been a really big blessing to us,” she said. “He never complains and has been a joy to have on our staff.”

Jessica worked at White Violet Center her junior year, but this year she worked in housekeeping with Bayja Stone. Starla Murphy is the director of that department.

“It’s a rewarding experience for both staff and student,” Starla said. “Jessica has done a good job. She really is a help to Bayja.”

On the car ride back to the Woods, Robyn and I talked about how proud we are to be involved in this program.

“We’re an education ministry. Usually our focus is on environment and advocacy, but it’s just as important to help these kids gain skills that will lead to them being important members of the community,” Robyn said. “They’ve definitely learned appropriate behavior in the work place, self-direction and how to follow through on tasks independently.

“The kids are just clearly proud of what they have accomplished,” she said. “It’s that confidence that will help them get a job.”

On behalf of the Sisters of Providence

Sisters of Providence General Superior Denise Wilkinson didn’t want to miss this opportunity to celebrate these seniors:

“What a perfect match — students and Sisters of Providence. Most of the sisters have spent many years of their lives in education and therefore with students of all ages,” Sister Denise said. “Maybe that’s why it has been such a pleasure to have West Vigo High School students Dustin, Jordan, Erika and Jessica ministering with us at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods this year. All of the Sisters of Providence extend our thanks to these four outstanding young persons and congratulate them on their graduation from high school.”

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Cheryl Casselman

Cheryl Casselman worked as a marketing manager for the Sisters of Providence for twenty years. She grew up in Camby, Indiana and now lives in Sullivan County, Indiana. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Indiana State University and master's degree in Leadership Development from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

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  1. Avatar Carol Reuss on May 18, 2016 at 7:12 am

    This celebration of successful students prompted me to recall the lessons taught to all of us by the late Sister Brendan Harvey and many SPs who worked with Special students. I am pleased to know the work continues tho in a different format. Congratulations to the students.

  2. Avatar Peg Benson on May 18, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    What a great, natural, Sisters of Providence undertaking. Now I’m hoping there will be an opening for ongoing employment for one or more of these students.

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