For Teens in Transition, an Opportunity to Achieve
After spending a year at a college with coursework tailored to students with special needs, Mark lacked direction. The university environment had supported him academically, but he needed structure outside of the classroom that his program did not provide. Though he craved independence and had the potential to achieve it, he didn’t have the life and work skills he needed to take on adult responsibilities. Even moving back home became a struggle, and he often fought with his parents when they encouraged him to be a more thoughtful member of their home.
Mark and his parents are far from alone. For the families of young adults with social, emotional, and learning challenges, the approach of their child’s adulthood is a daunting prospect. Many legally mandated services have ended, and without them families find themselves at sea. The majority of adult children with special needs find themselves back at home without future orientation, with seven out of ten living with their parents or guardians and nearly nine out of ten without full-time jobs.
When Mark’s educational consultant suggested he try Ramapo for Children’s Staff Assistant Experience (SAE), he and his family saw an answer to their growing challenges. Created in 2008 to respond to the growing, unmet need of this population, SAE is a residential transition-to-independence program for young adults aged 18 to 25 who have social, emotional, or learning challenges. The program offers participants an opportunity to improve and reinforce interpersonal, independent living, and job skills, build resilience and determination, and establish a future orientation. For many young adults, SAE provides a path to success that other programs have not.
Mark’s parents reached out to Ramapo, and after speaking with the core SAE team and touring the 250-acre campus all three of them were ready to take the plunge. Mark arrived on campus and met the young men and women who would serve as his mentors, job coaches, and colleagues, then settled in with his new roommate, an AmeriCorps member named Jerome. The unique blending of social, work, and home life with typically developing peers is a hallmark of SAE, helping Staff Assistants align their goal of independence with their skills by giving them behavior models who can provide immediate feedback on social and professional development. The camaraderie on campus also offers Staff Assistants a chance to be a part of a team in a way most have never experienced before.
During Mark’s year as a Staff Assistant, he made remarkable progress. His parents were delighted to hear about his growing skills from his mentor and from Mark himself as he moved from learning essential skills like grocery shopping and appropriately joining in conversations to balancing a budget and managing his own work time. Working in the Ramapo kitchen, his colleagues showed him how to work together to meet a goal; as an activities assistant, he received coaching on social interactions so he could work successfully with a wide range of participants.
Though each experience helped him improve his interpersonal, independent living, and job skills, he really found a niche when he discovered a talent for working with children. The work began as a challenge, but soon he looked forward to meeting the next group of campers and helping them gain new abilities. The kids looked up to Mark, and helping them experience success through the strategies he’d learned as a Staff Assistant increased his confidence. Now he was no longer only a person who received support, he was a person who supported others, and he truly enjoyed sharing the Ramapo approach with campers. His parents listened with pride as he told them about teaching a young boy how to fish in the lake and the excitement they both felt when he made his first catch.
Mark came to Ramapo seeking independence, but he came away with even more: a calling. Thanks to his newfound focus, he became eager to apply himself to a future working with children. With the help of his team of mentors and peers, Mark studied for a school aide certification test and passed with flying colors. Upon returning home, he became a primary school teaching aide and loves the work he is doing. He returned to his parents strengthened and continues to be a more conscientious member of his family, applying the strategies he learned at camp every day. Though Mark is no longer a Staff Assistant, the friendships he’s made and the skills that he’s gained are a part of him now, and they’ll support him in his new role as a confident, capable young man.
Photos by familymwr and Kyle Taylor