‘Boot Camp’ helps disabled get job-ready

Two local counties give disabled students real-world opportunities.

Two local county boards concluded another year of a summer camp that helps high school students with developmental disabilities gain job skills.

The Montgomery County and Greene County Boards of Developmental Disability Services finished their five-week ‘Boot Camp’ on Friday, completing the fifth year of the camp. It was started by Montgomery County after the statewide Employment First Initiative was launched in 2012 to try to employ more citizens with developmental disabilities.

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“We’re exposing them to different careers in the community, and just kind of getting their feet wet,” lead instructor Andrea Harker, who works for Montgomery County, said last week. “Like, what do I want to do with my life?”

Fifty students from roughly 15 local school districts between the counties participated in this year’s camp. Campers spent the mornings working, usually at local churches, food banks or other volunteer-friendly environments, and learning job skills.

They spent their afternoons talking with local job centers, listening to guest speakers, doing practice job interviews, and getting information that will help increase their employability.

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Campers also improved their social skills during camp, as many develop friendships with their peers.

Mike Miletello, 20, who was back for his second year of camp, was vacuuming the aisle floor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Dayton on Monday. He is a Bellbrook High School student (students with developmental disabilities may attend high school up to age 22 in Ohio) who said he learned to be a hard worker at camp, and will be working at Miami Valley Hospital South next year with Project SEARCH, a national program that helps integrate those with disabilities into the medical workplace.

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When Miletello started ‘Boot Camp’ last summer, Josh Welhener, the camp’s lead instructor from Greene County, said that he “would in no way have been ready for Project SEARCH.”

“He’s grown so much over the past year, that they took him,” Welhener said proudly. “He’s really come a long, long way.”

‘An untapped resource’

Welhener noted that workers with developmental disabilities tend to have “great attendance and fantastic longevity” in the workplace, while also being loyal.

According to a 2012 study by America Training Inc., 90 percent of employees with developmental disabilities perform equally or superiorly to individuals without disabilities.

Despite these numbers, however, Welhener believes that there is still a stigma attached to disabled individuals that lessens their chances to be hired.

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“I think that corporations have made intentional efforts to diversify their hiring, but unfortunately, the disability side of diversity has kind of lagged behind,” Welhener said. “It’s an untapped resource in this area, and we’re just trying to educate employers.”

Local grocer Dorothy Lane Market won the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disability Services’ “Employer of the Year” award in 2016 for their inclusiveness of disabled workers. The grocer’s Oakwood store currently employs eight developmentally disabled workers, and store director Jerry Post said that their customers enjoy seeing the workers.

“Hiring people with disabilities — there’s nothing charitable about it.,” Welhener added. “They increase the bottom-line value of most organizations that give it a try.”

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