Offered in both Niagara Falls and Lockport, the vocational services program provides activities that prepare an individual for a job in the community. Individuals train at one of the agency’s sites and earn a wage based on their productivity. Training is designed to increase independence and productivity, and enable integration into a work setting. Training options include: subcontracting services (pre-vocational); food service, and environmental services. Additional training opportunities and work readiness are available through Transition Readiness for Employment in the Community (T.R.E.C.) program in conjunction with Niagara University’s College of Education.
Additionally, the agency offers opportunities to experience work and volunteer options in the community for those individuals who are on the path to community employment and need exploration activities. Individuals may participate in either the:
- “Pathway to Employment” – an opportunity to participate in vocational community experiences and career planning for one year to help determine one’s skills, abilities and unique talents while allowing them to make informed decisions. This program is designed for individuals who need to have community experiences before competitive employment is considered.
- “Community Prevocational Services” – an opportunity to participate in volunteer/vocational community experiences for an extended period of time to help provide experiences which prepare them for jobs that pay minimum wage in an integrated setting.
For more information, please contact Lori Flaugher, 504-2617 ext. 230 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expanded Learning Opportunities through Niagara University
Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara expanded on a longtime relationship with Niagara University to bring classroom and real-world experiences, along with hands-on use of computers and other technology, to individuals with developmental disabilities who are enrolled in pre-vocational and day programming at the agency.
Beginning in 2009, Niagara offers a work readiness program in the university’s Academic Complex each semester. Individuals from the agency will travel to the university weekly to participate in classes designed by College of Education students enrolled in programs for individuals with special needs. These classes, which are designed to facilitate transition into community-based employment, will cover topics including: how to present oneself professionally; communication; good work habits; accepting supervision; literacy; using technology; career exploration and development.
Each semester, College of Education students will enhance the core curriculum and teach individuals who are eligible for employment opportunities. “This provides our students with a hands-on opportunity to work with transitional adults capable of moving into a workplace environment and brings individuals from Opportunities Unlimited into a university setting,” noted Patricia Wrobel, assistant dean for external relations in the College of Education.
Participants will also meet with human resource and career development professionals from Niagara University, members of the business community, and members of Opportunities Unlimited’s board of directors, to learn more about career exploration and the skills employers are seeking.
“I had the opportunity to observe classes one morning at Niagara University and was pleasantly surprised by the difference I saw in our participants – they showed self-confidence that I had not seen before,” offered Joanne Kumm, assistant director of vocational services at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara. She added, “Everyday they ask me when they can go back.”
To ensure that the participants would be able to continue to enhance their technology skills, Niagara University donated nine computers that will be used in a lab at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara’s Niagara Falls location.
The Teachers’ View
NU College of Education graduate students, Melissa Bonar and Jaclyn Rossi offered their collective reflections on this experience as they were gearing up for the Fall 2009 class.
Unfortunately, many people in society have preconceived notions about individuals with special needs, believing that adults with special needs will not be able to hold a job or function well in the community. Believe it or not, we had our own preconceived notions about what to expect for the six weeks that lay ahead of us back in July. We were somewhat nervous because we had never worked this closely with adults with special needs before. We set high standards for ourselves for what we hoped to accomplish. Transitioning into employment for adults with special needs is a newer topic that has not been widely addressed in our society. Because of this, there is limited research to back up our program.
However, we grounded our program in as much theory as possible. We brainstormed together to come up with the most beneficial program possible, covering everything from an appropriate handshake, do’s and don’ts of work and interviews, to calling in sick, filling out applications and setting goals. We were ecstatic to conclude that our preconceived notions were completely wrong. The six weeks we spent this summer were a true blessing for us. We are not really sure who learned more…the adult program participants or us! Every day we planned lessons that would be individualized to their needs and our students would go above and beyond our expectations. Their memories and knowledge are remarkable, and they will bring all of this with them into the community. The program’s goal was to prepare the adults for the next step of their life and we can say confidently that we think they are ready. Employees from Opportunities Unlimited have spoken with both of us stating that the adults are “standing taller, and working harder than ever before.” It’s a great feeling to know we have made a difference in their lives, but an even greater feeling to know how successful each and every one will be.
If you have a family member who would like to participate in future sessions through Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, please contact Lori Flaugher at (716) 504-2617.