Tag Archives: RAMP

Excited, Nervous, and So Proud

The following blog was written by Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) coordinator and Transition Program Coordinator, Jacquelyn Privitera.

While there are countless ways that my job is fulfilling, sometimes, there are stories that really take the cake. My job is to help youth gain the skills they need to become successful members of their communities. Success will, of course, look different for each of them as they plan their futures and set their own goals. If I have been successful at my own job, they will all have the confidence and support to pursue whatever “success” looks like to them.

I’ve learned over the last seven years that there is often a lot of potential hiding behind a seemingly quiet student. Norma Puente is my favorite example of this. When I first started working with her at Margaret Long Wisdom High School, she largely kept to herself but would always participate when it was asked of her. Her sweet demeanor and the kindness she always showed to her classmates (and her ability to avoid joining in when all the students around her started to get rowdy) lead me to invite her to our annual Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program Conference in Washington D.C. that summer. Never having been on a plane, she was equal parts excited and nervous, but ultimately so proud of being considered for the opportunity and representing Houston.

When we arrived in D.C., there were students from RAMP sites around the country and without a hint of nerves or trepidation, they all became fast friends. I’ve heard so many stories over the years from these students that making friends was hard for them, but at this conference, you’d absolutely never know it. There is an immediate sense of camaraderie and any walls that they had up fall with breakneck fervor. I’ve never left this annual conference without crying at least once. These kids are truly inspiring…and putting them all together in one room? It’s something to behold.

Part of being invited to the conference is that each student has to deliver a presentation about their future career goals or projects they’ve worked on at their respective RAMP sites that school year. Norma chose to present on Criminology which would soon be her college major. The previously reserved student lit up with apparent passion when she got to talk about her future. She would be the first member of her family to go to college. She would help people who needed her. She would make something of herself – and she couldn’t wait to do any of it.

Norma was then given the opportunity to join local students at the Teen and Police Service Academy; an important and amazing partnership between the Houston Police Department and the University of Houston Clear Lake designed for at-risk youth and police officer mentors. She said it made her feel like a leader and made her confident in speaking in front of groups all while giving her more insight into the future she was carefully preparing for herself. The next summer, I asked her to return to Washington D.C. with me. She was the leader of the pack; guiding all the students who attended and offering encouragement to nervous students giving their presentations for the first time. During a long silence where a student couldn’t bring himself to speak from fear, she stood up, told us all to cheer him on, and got us all clapping. After that, he gave a great presentation. And I really looked at Norma in awe.

She graduated high school in 2019 and has gotten right to work since then. She is working at Care Optical where she deals with prescriptions and sealing glasses and she is enrolled at Houston Community College in their Criminology Program – yep, the first one in her family to go to college. When she graduates, she plans to attend the police academy and go for her Bachelor’s degree in Criminology.

I keep in touch with Norma and when I recently asked her if she thinks RAMP helped her, she responded:

RAMP helped me in so many ways. This program helped me get on track with my career path and to think ahead to the future. It helped me to grow and allowed me to come out of my bubble and interact with other people with no problem. It made me a leader and because of this program I can say I have grown as a person and am doing better. It made me want to keep up with my studies and to become someone.”

I’m proud to be a part of her story and I am so proud to know her and all the incredible students I meet through Easter Seals Greater Houston’s RAMP and Transition Programs. If you’re wondering, being a mentor will never waste a single minute of your time.

Learn more about participating in Easter Seals Greater Houston’s RAMP Program as a mentor or mentee.

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Transition and Employment in the Pandemic

2020 has been anything but usual for the adolescents and adults Easter Seals Greater Houston serves and it has certainly been different for our staff. We have learned to provide services remotely and to help both job seekers and employers adapt to the changing circumstances in which people work and supervise the people who work in their companies.

In March, COVID-19 halted in-person services for high school students in our summer program which, after a two month hiatus, returned as remote services. Our staff, Robert Aranda, Ron Taylor, and Jacquie Privitera, had to figure out how to make lessons interesting and engaging for the students while meeting the requirements of the Texas Workforce Commission, the sponsors of the program. Our students and staff designed a commercial for a network consulting firm and then presented that commercial to a panel of judges from local corporations. All of this was done remotely, including a job performed, for pay, by one of our students for the networking company, Sepulveda Technology Consultants.

Job seekers, and the companies that employ them, have also had to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, a group of young men with autism, who were completing internships in the IT Department for Chevron, had to adjust to working from home. Despite the stereotype of persons with autism preferring solitude, these men had a difficult time adjusting to not being with their supervisors and coworkers. Their Employment Specialist, Robert Aranda, had to switch from providing face to face services to making contact only by telephone. After many sessions between Robert and the employees and supervisors, all four of the interns were offered permanent positions at Chevron. They still hold their positions and are successfully working remotely today.

For some workers, going to work in an office or warehouse is not possible because of medical issues or mental illness. Ron Taylor, one of our Employment Specialists, worked remotely for several months with a person with severe back pain, searching for the right opportunity. They found a position with Walgreens that let her work from home. Ron worked with our partners at Texas Workforce Solutions to procure a chair and desk that would support her back and let her work. As her personal computer was not suitable for her job, Ron arranged for a donated computer to be made available until she can purchase her own laptop. She is now working from home, processing orders for Walgreens and is on her way to having the funds to purchase her own computer.

Robert Williams, Easter Seals Greater Houston,
Program Director – Employment/Transition Services

Easter Seals Greater Houston provides Transition Services for youth ages 16-27 with autism and mental health conditions. Services include transition evaluation and planning, social skills training, family and community resources and goals which reflect the youth’s realizable aspirations in areas of education or work, peer supports, job placement, job coaching and supported employment. Learn more.

High School/High Tech is a community-based partnership of parents, educators, rehabilitation professionals and business representatives working together to encourage students with disabilities to explore the fields of science, engineering and technology. High School/High Tech also offers a mentoring program called RAMP – Ready to Achieve Mentor Program. Learn more.

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Oh how the Time Flys

2019 RAMP HSHT blog pic.docx.jpg

Oh, the mixed feelings. The proud “mama bear” feeling. The ecstatic “look at them go!” feeling. The sad “they’re leaving” feeling. All of ‘em. I’ve got all of ‘em.

For the past six years, I’ve been working with at risk youth with disabilities in the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program at Easter Seals Greater Houston. The goal is to prepare them for life after high school while also making sure they feel the support and heed the guidance that aims to keep them out of the juvenile justice system and aiming instead at college and work. As you might imagine – working with teenagers is equal parts fun and *enter face-palm emoji here*. While we work on resume building, interviewing skills, and career exploration, they are also testing, and subsequently, pushing boundaries every chance they get. I’ve learned to navigate the energetic mischievousness and get as much done as possible, while still begging a handful of class clowns to “sit down”, “fill this out please”, and “please stop throwing erasers at his head”. I can’t complain too much, though. Most of the time I’m laughing as I say it because they truly are some of the funniest kids I have ever met.

For the last three years, I have had the same group of students at KIPP Northeast College Prep. Since day one, when they were all feeling me out and seeing if they actually liked me at all, they still made me laugh. There’s the one who can do any sound effect in the book and always has videos of his plays in the past weekend’s football game to show me, the one who prefers to walk around barefoot, the one whose smile is actually legitimately contagious. They all walk up and hug me when I walk into their classroom each week – and not superficial hugs, either. I mean big, crack-your-back bear hugs. The fact is, though, it’s time for some of them to move on; my five seniors. I’ve prepped them for this since their sophomore year, but it crept up on me a lot faster than I would have liked.

Today in class, all five of them told me that they had been accepted to several colleges. This big, scary transition from high school was starting out pretty wonderfully and they were excited to share the news. Again, those mixed feelings. I am so proud of them and I’m so sad to watch them go. When I started at Easter Seals, I knew this program would probably be pretty life changing but I honest to God didn’t expect it to have such an effect on me, too.

I’m so lucky to be a part of something so amazing and to get to spend my time with such talented, kind, intelligent young people. Watching them figure out their goals, work toward them, and achieve them is really incredible. My heart is full.

I still have a few months to prepare myself in an attempt to hold in tears as they walk across the stage at graduation. But that’s nothing a big bear hug can’t fix. Congratulations to the soon to be high school graduates of the class of 2020! Watching you on your journey to college has been a blessing. Don’t forget to visit. I’ll have candy.

Love, “Miss Jacquie”.

Jacquie Privitera, Easter Seals Greater Houston, RAMP Coordinator/ Transition Coordinator 

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Celebrating NDEAM – National Disability Employment Awareness Month

David Wright is a recent graduate of Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land where he was in our Easter Seals Houston High School High Tech / RAMP (Ready to Achieve Mentoring) program since his freshman year. David has been interested in becoming a herpetologist for a long time and knows A LOT about it. Freshman year it was hard for our staff to keep him on track because he always wanted to talk about lizards, snakes, and reptiles. We literally couldn’t get him to talk about anything else! Through the years David got better about this, was more open to participating in what the class was doing and it was obvious he was starting to pick up on the importance of our mentoring and lessons about social cues and soft skills and more. Jacquelyn Privatera Miller went with him to his interview for the internship at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land and he was SO professional, acted like a well prepared young adult and dressed himself so well for the interview. Everyone was really impressed. David is thriving in this environment and has opened up more and can have great conversations with people including his new co-workers. He even hugs Jacquie now when he sees her, which he would never ever have done before. So really he has just grown and matured so much in the last few years and is doing a really impressive job at his internship!  Help us congratulate David  as he is enjoying his 20 hours/week internship AND is also enrolled at Wharton Community College! Huge thanks to the museum and the museum staff for making it a life changing experience for David!

High School/High Tech is a community-based partnership of parents, educators, rehabilitation professionals and business representatives working together to encourage students with disabilities to explore the fields of science, engineering and technology. Only 56% of students with disabilities graduate from high school. High School/High Tech was developed to address this situation. Most individuals with disabilities have not had the encouragement, role models, access and stimulation to pursue challenging technical careers or courses of study. Through High School/High Tech, students with disabilities are presented a mix of learning experiences that promote career exploration and broaden educational horizons. High School/High Tech also offers a mentoring program called RAMP – Ready to Achieve Mentor Program. Learn more about High School/High Tech.

Jacquelyn Miller, Easter Seals Greater Houston, High School High Tech / RAMP

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Interviewing for the Future

Being a good interviewer is a skill we should all have. I got my first job slicing meats and scooping salads in our grocery store’s deli, but I imagine that’s only because my dad worked there. I was hardly interview ready and showed up wearing jeans. Luckily practice makes perfect and throughout the years I’ve gained the skills necessary to feel confident when I sit across from the person who may or may not make it possible for me to pay my bills. But, teenagers are often terrified of the idea of an interview just as I had once been.HSHT MID 2017-19

Interviewing skills, resume writing, soft skills, and professionalism are all heavily covered topics in Easter Seals Greater Houston’s High School/High Tech and Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) classes. We want our students to ace any interview they walk in to and that takes a lot of practice. Leading up to our annual Mock Interview Day, we talk about what they should wear and how they should answer popular interview questions as well as why they should smile, make eye contact, and have good firm handshakes. We do everything we can to prepare our youth and they usually seem ready to go but inevitably, when they line up in the hallway to begin the first of their three short mock interviews, the panic sets in. I can understand why – our volunteer interviewers are very professionally dressed, sitting tall and stoic in their seats and it immediately makes all of the students doubt their skills and forget everything we taught them. However, over the course of the day, something really great happens. You can see these young people feel confident and proud of themselves. They leave their first interview with a grade sheet that usually tells the same tale – they did well, but have a few things they need to work on. At the second interview, they’ve worked on these shortcomings and did a pretty good job! By their third, they’re old pros comparing near perfect scores with each other in the hallway. Watching a young person believe they can do something well is pretty amazing.

HSHT MID 2017-45This year, Carmen Phillips, the newest member of Easter Seals Greater Houston’s High School/High Tech team, hosted her own Mock Interview Day and included a fun new activity that got students talking with each other and moving around. By making each student their own business cards to share and use for networking with other students, Carmen was able to make every student social. Even the most shy or reserved students made an effort to network with others and talk about themselves in between mock interviews. This was a fun new mock interview day inclusion that we will be using every year to get our youth excited about sharing what they know with other people.

HSHT MID 2017-05Yvonne Kelly and I enjoyed watching students at our Mock Interview Day in League City cut each other in line to be able to do their second or third interviews before one another because they had gotten such great scores and couldn’t wait to do it again! We had a funny and boisterous group this year and they made the day so fun.

Watching all of our youth participate, feel accomplished, and actually be excited about interviewing is such a reward for us as each Mock Interview Day ends. We can’t wait to see what next year brings as we prepare our students for their transition out of high school and into the world of college and work!

Jacquie Privitera Miller, RAMP and Transition Coordinator, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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High School High Tech Royalty and Celebrating Disability Employment Awareness Month!

Hear ye, hear ye! Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s High School High Tech is homecomingking4pleased to announce that we now have Royalty among us!  Montgomery ISD just crowned our very own HSHT student, Jahlil Howard, to be the 2016 Montgomery High School Homecoming King! Jahlil, a high school senior, is a second year participant in our High School High Tech and Ready to Achieve Mentoring program and has been a shining example of leadership to his peers.

High School/High Tech is a community-based partnership of parents, educators, rehabilitation professionals and business representatives working together to encourage students with disabilities to explore the fields of science, engineering and technology. Only 56% of students with disabilities graduate from high school. High School/High Tech was developed to address this situation. Most individuals with disabilities have not had the encouragement, role models, access and stimulation to pursue challenging technical careers or courses of study. Through High School/High Tech, students with disabilities are presented a mix of learning experiences that promote career exploration and broaden educational horizons.

homecomingking2This outgoing Senior has been super active in our HSHT program and has participated in several career field trips including Montgomery County Mock Interview Day, tours of Olive Garden and Woodforest National Bank and even defied gravity at a HSHT indoor skydiving event at IFly Woodlands!  In addition to HSHT, Jahlil continues to break barriers as an avid runner and member of the MHS Varsity Cross Country Team and has been recognized with several awards for his Cross Country achievements, including District Champ, all the while maintaining his steady summer job. homecomingking1

Jahlil became involved with HSHT with the support and encouragement of his MISD Transition Specialist Lesa Bolling who proudly remarked, “Jahlil is an awesome young man with an outstanding personality! He makes everyone around him feel at ease. Jahlil’s faith is grounded and he speaks of it often.” Mrs. Bolling couldn’t have said it better!  Congratulations to our amazing young man, and Royal Highness, Jahlil Howard!

Carmen Phillips, Easter Seals Greater Houston
Montgomery County HSHT Program Coordinator

 

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Keeping It In Perspective

March 2016 Transition blog by Jacquie

I stumbled across a short poem online the other day.

Cause I ain’t got a pencil
By Joshua T. Dickerson

I woke myself up
Because we ain’t got an alarm clock
Dug in the dirty clothes basket,
Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform
Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,
Cause the lights ain’t on
Even got my baby sister ready
Cause my mama wasn’t home.
Got us both to school on time,
To eat us a good breakfast.
Then when I got to class the teacher fussed
Cause I ain’t got a pencil.

Despite my making a conscious effort everyday to remember that not everyone’s circumstances are the same, I still need reminding sometimes. I still need to remember some of my students will come to class without something they need simply because they just don’t have it. It isn’t always forgetfulness. It isn’t always laziness. It isn’t always defiance of the rules. Some of the time, maybe even a lot of the time, they just don’t have it. It isn’t because they don’t want to listen and it isn’t because they don’t care.

During my first year with Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s High School/High Tech Program, a student asked what the house I grew up in looked like. I told everyone it was small but my parents took great care of it and made sure it always looked nice. They still do. They have lived in that house for 35 years. The student then said,

So, how big was the downstairs of your house?

I didn’t know and I hadn’t ever really thought about it.

Well, the downstairs is maybe a few feet bigger than this classroom.

My student, who is one of the funniest people I have ever known, laughed and said,

Miss. Do you know how big my whole house is? My ENTIRE house? It’s the size of this corner!

He walked over and held his arms out in a big bear hug stance and stood in the corner showing everyone that his house was as small as that space.

When we eat dinner, all our elbows touch. Me, my mama, my step dad, and my sister. Our elbows touch like this…

and he forced his elbows together in front of himself.  I will miss this kid next year. He is graduating. I am so proud of him but sad for myself.

Everyone laughed watching his theatrics including me, probably more than anyone else. But, it made me think. I’ve always thought of my house as small, but to someone who didn’t have that much, that house was pretty impressive. I’ve always been proud of it because my parents spent so many hours keeping it up and making sure it was the nicest house on our street; and it was and it still is.

I didn’t really realize that I was so fortunate to have things that other people with less might really admire. I had a picture of my parents’ house on my phone. I took it before I moved to Houston three years ago so that I could look at it whenever I got homesick. I showed my students and they all replied with “whoa!” and “that’s a nice house, miss” and “look at your street! It’s like a movie street!” They were right and I hadn’t realized until they said it.

I gain little bits of perspective slowly over time. My students teach it to me; these kids with challenges I have never had to face. What I always thought was average was actually really beautiful to some of them. What I always thought was an unspoken rule – bringing a pen or pencil to all my classes – was easy for me because I had all the things I needed for school. Money was set aside for school supplies and new school clothes every year without thought and without question. Not everyone has that. Some of my students don’t have that. I hope to change it somehow.

I bring spare pens to class now.

-Jacquie Miller, Transition, Easter Seals Greater Houston

To read more posts by Jacquie Miller, visit J-Vibe

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Our Newest Avril “Rock Stars”!

This past weekend, Easter Seals Grater Houston held its third installment of our teen camp, CamDSCF4708p MOST (Miles of Smiles for Teens) with the help of Randalls Food Market, The Avril Lavigne Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston. It has been such an incredible experience to be a part of the birth of this new opportunity for teenagers. Some of the campers who have attended one of the weekend retreats had been removed from the camp scene for a few years since their graduation from Camp Smiles (our week-long overnight camp) at age 14, so they have loved getting back to camp, seeing old friends and enjoying some teen time.

Camp MOST along with our program, Social Motion Skills, is all about encouraging the teens along in their transition from childhood to adulthood and supporting them through this challenging time of life. High school is tough enough for any teenager, and when you bring a disability into the mix, it adds a whole other dimension to the puzzle. At Camp MOST, the teens find a support group among each other and are able to talk about what it’s like to be a teenager with a disability, how they navigate their high school, and share advice about how to teach and interact with their peers about disabilities in a positive way. In the future, DSCF4551we hope to add an element to camp that touches on transition from high school to post secondary life like our High School High Tech Program – meaning college, employment, vocational school, etc. We want to encourage the teens to become self advocates and learn how to get the most out of their life! We hope to accomplish this by stressing the development of relationships, natural supports, personal expectations, community involvement, social skills and self-determination – all key components of Social Motion Skills.

It’s amazing to watch these campers who once were young nervous little kids, arrive at camp and check themselves in, turn in all of their medication and explain what each of them is for, and explain their own personal care needs to the volunteers. They are really learning to be self advocates and understand how to take responsibility for themselves. I also love watching the campers develop true friendships among one another. They all exchange contact information with each other at camp and many stay in touch and become great friends! They really are each other’s best support because no one knows what it’s like to be in their shoes except for them.  I love that Camp MDSCF4664OST helps the campers find and connect with people who understand them and can relate to their life experiences. Not to mention, it’s a great place for these teens to escape for a weekend and just let loose and have fun!

I hope that Camp MOST continues to grow and encourage teens through their high school years. It is definitely my dream to see some of these campers come back in the future as mentors to the new campers! Between the community support, MOST, Social Motion Skills and High School High Tech, we hope the community sees the importance of giving teens with disabilities a chance – they can excel at school, go on to college and be gainfully employed. We can’t do it without support both monetarily and volunteer based. Please consider making a gift, serving as a volunteer or asking your company to be a host site for our high school program.

Here’s a little taste of the success we see – C has been attending our children’s camp since he was 7 years old.  Every year at our children’s camp, he refused to do the high ropes course.  Now 14, C saw being at teen camp as a rite of passage and as an opportunity to challenge himself and step outside of his comfort zone.  So, C got up to the top of the high ropes course (nearly 3 stories high!), and then flew back down via the zip line.  C screamed and beamed all the way down, and at the end of it exclaimed, “Check it out, I did it!”

By Betsy Keane, Camp Coordinator, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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The Chance of a Lifetime, High School Students with Disabilities

Ask yourself – Why not give these teens a chance? Doesn’t everyone deserve it? All it takes is one hand up and not a hand out.  Can’t we all remember the person in our lives who gave us the one chance that altered our lives? Not to mention…did you know most of our world leaders and CEO’s have some type of learning disability?  Imagine the difference in our lives if Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, who also has dyslexia, hadn’t been given a chance? See 15 CEO’s with Learning Disabilities.

Everywhere you look there are stories about how finding a job in today’s market is becoming more and more difficult.  Imagine how especially difficult it is for a student trying to find his or her first job, especially when that student lacks the confidence in him or herself because of a disability.  And their families and teachers don’t want them to even try or are scared for them to get hurt? Wonder why the dropout rate for teens in high school is over 60%…

This is exactly why it is so important for these students to have the additional practice, and help in preparing for work related experiences and to be exposed to the opportunities that exist.  I think that we would be hard pressed to find anyone who could not use some practice in interviewing, but helping our high school students with disabilities is essential to aiding their success in entering the workforce. 

As we approach our fifth annual Interviewing Skills Workshop, I am excited to watch how much our students will gain from this one day.  Of course we practice sample interview questions throughout the year, but watching the students run through a mock interview with volunteer professionals that they don’t know, there is a noticeable improvement in the students’ confidence and comfort as they go from their first to their third or fourth round.  It seems unlikely, but the students actually like practicing their interviewing skills, and even practice with one another as they wait their turn for their next mock interview.  Obviously, all these teens need is encouragement and a little support. 

The main focus of High School / High Tech is to open a door to a future…whether that is graduating from high school and entering the workforce, or going to a trade school OR attending college when no one thought it was possible. In just a few shorts steps this program can introduce these teens to what is expected at a workplace, what is expected as an employee, the many, many different opportunities that exist and the possibilities you can create for yourself. And, the main focus of the Interviewing Skills Workshop is to teach our students more about interviewing skills. Each year as we finish up the day I am reminded of a few important lessons myself.  First, no matter how many times you go to an interview or interview someone else, it is normal to still be nervous.  Second, it really is generally the best idea to practice something before you do it and not just wing it to see how it goes.  And finally, sometimes things that you think will be torturous, boring and nerve-wracking will turn out to be enjoyable, informative and even fun experiences.  Everyone including the volunteers, teachers, and Easter Seals staff takes something away. Hopefully you will too.

Erin Linskey Johnson, HSHT Program Director, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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