In 2006, at the age of 12, Mitch Emerson lost much of his vision as a result of a brain tumor. Fast forward eight years, and now he is cancer free, a student of the Kansas State School for the Blind's (KSSB) Transition Program, and part of a work-study program here in KU Medical Center's mail services department.
The work-study program is one aspect of the school's transition program which helps legally blind students transition from high school to becoming an adult. Through the program, students are exposed to vocational and/or on-the-job training, college prep courses, daily independent living skills, and more.
Mail services has been a partner in the work-study program for several years, and the employees enjoy sharing the business and social experiences with Mitch. With a laptop-assisted device, Mitch helps sort the mail by looking up names and finding their corresponding departments. He likes to joke and laugh and take his breaks and lunch with his colleagues. The arrangement is rewarding for everyone involved.
"This program is good for both parties," said Carmen Johnson, mail services manager and Mitch's supervisor and mentor. "Mitch is learning all the business components of having a job and we learn just as much from Mitch. He doesn't let his disability stop him and works just as hard as anyone else. He inspires us and reminds us not to take little things for granted."
What Mitch likes best about working at KU Medical Center is the people.
"I like all of my co-workers," he said. "They're all friendly and we like to joke around. I feel like I've made friends. And learning the mail system has given me more confidence that I can take with me to my next job."
Although Mitch has met all the requirements to graduate high school, he chose to stay in the transition program so he could secure more skills and learn to live on his own.
"We have many students who choose not to graduate," explained Lori Smith, KSSB transition specialist. "These students might be really good at one thing, but lack the necessary skills in another area. So like Mitch, they want to stay in the program to continue learning and develop into more well-rounded adults."
Once Mitch finishes his work-study program this summer, he wants to work at another business to gain more employment experience. He ultimately wants to move out on his own and hopes to become a bookkeeper or bank teller. Mitch enjoys drawing and other forms of art as well as skiing and swimming – all activities that are provided at his school. He's currently participating in the fitness contest to see who can walk the most steps because the winner gets to plan meals for a week. On the weekends and during breaks, Mitch spends time with his family.
More work-study programs needed
The work-study relationships are vital to the transition program because they give students a taste of what it's like to have a job, helping students develop the necessary skills to obtain and maintain employment. If your department is interested in participating in a work study program and providing students with an invaluable real-world experience, please contact Lori Smith, transition specialist, at 913-305-3066.
Pictured top: Mitch Emerson
Pictured left: Mitch with his supervisor and mentor Carmen Johnson, mail services manager