Sussex Consortium work program offers real-life experience

Partnerships help businesses, students succeed
April 10, 2019

A work program for Sussex Consortium students is helping about 70 students learn job skills so they can transition to the workplace after graduation.

Consortium Vocational Coordinator/Transition Specialist Pamela Graves said the program assists students with disabilities to become self-sufficient employees, starting at age 14 until they leave the Consortium at age 21.

Graves places students based on their interests and employer needs. With about 50 participating businesses, finding the right fit is not hard to do.

Still, Graves said, students must apply and interview for jobs, learning another life skill. Job etiquette is stressed: if students want to change jobs, they write a two-week-notice resignation letter.

Graves said some students are nonverbal and some have behavioral issues. All students carry a vocational binder that contains school and health-related information, job descriptions and time sheets.

“They are trained and given actual jobs; it’s not just busy work,” Graves said. “The goal is to integrate the students so they gain acceptance and can be happy.”

Graves said most students work at several places. They are given uniforms and treated like any other employee. Some jobs are paid; several businesses have hired students after graduation.

All students begin at the Movies at Midway, one of the program’s original businesses. Owner Tiffany Derrickson said because the theater is closed in the morning, there are no distractions or noises to stress students.

“Working here accommodates lower-functioning students who need special attention and can still be involved,” Derrickson said. “They’re an important part of our community, so we are very happy to have them here. It’s a great partnership.”

Students begin filling cup holders before advancing to cleaning doors, concession areas and soda fountains. Student Alex Horvath said he performs multiple tasks.

“Some jobs I do are inventory, taking out the trash, cleaning the windows and vacuuming,” he said. “I go upstairs where supplies are kept and get items that need to be restocked, from oldest to newest. I get to use the dolly, hydraulic lift and freight elevator.”

Marcus Carreno said he vacuums theater floors, and stocks candy and the claw machine. “My favorite part of the job is you get to drink soda, watch trailers and earn a movie.”

While students are not paid cash, every quarter they have a movie day with popcorn in the cube or party room. They vote on what movie to see; the most recent choice was “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.”

A teacher or job coach accompanies students to each site. Paraeducator Dolores Salyards said she loves seeing theater staff take students under their wings.

“The amazing part is to see students come in here who never had a job and may have behavior issues,” she said. “You think they will struggle, but then you see what they can accomplish in just six months.”

Many students who master theater responsibilities move to Grotto Pizza Grand Slam, Graves said, which has more stimulation, activity and people. Some students work just mornings; others work all day.

Grotto employees shadow students, giving them as much independence as possible. At Grotto’s, students earn a lunch of pizza, popcorn and soda each day.

“They get used to working with different staff, not always the same people, so it helps with socialization and working skills,” job coach Denise Delesio said.

Grand Slam General Manager Ralph Galbreath said Grotto’s began participating in the Consortium program in 2008. One graduate now works at Grotto’s in Bethany as a pizza maker, a highly skilled position, while others work at Grotto’s in Long Neck, he said.

“The efficiency of the students helps the restaurant run smoothly,” he said. “They clean tables, wipe down chairs and fill spices. They bag appetizers, make salads and popcorn, and free us up to do other things. They’re incredible.”

Hunter Wiswall said his primary job is making salads. He refers to a visual aid above his workstation to ensure he places each vegetable in the right spot. “But I like cleaning the arcade games the best.”

Skye Best said he began working at the Grand Slam in October. “I made salads last week, and I’m cleaning tables this week. I love working here, and the food!”

Bartender Dolores Pierce said students fill her ice bins.

“I just love the kids. They make my day and I can’t say enough about them,” she said. “They do so much for us, and I miss them when they’re not here. My favorite thing to tell them is, ‘You’re awesome!’”

Buffalo Wild Wings General Manager Matt Kaye said his restaurant has partnered with the Consortium since opening seven years ago.

“Last week, they detailed all the walls and pulled shelves out to deep-clean,” he said. “We try to get them out of their comfort zones because they get bored, so we let them try different things.”

Kaye said the restaurant is inspected at least six times a year on food quality, temperature and other measures, and he said students account for much of the restaurant’s success.

“We literally couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “Our inspectors say portions and everything are right on target and everything is clean. They do a lot more than you think.”

Kaye said students love the restaurant’s sports atmosphere.

“We have fun with them and tease the Cowboys fans,” he laughed. “We’re all a team here, and we embrace them as part of our family. The kids aren’t here on the weekends and I hear the staff say, ‘I wish the kids were here’ because they’re so busy and need the help.”

Fresh Market Manager Joseph Starchia said students master cleaning duties before taking on tasks that include checking expiration dates.

“Checking for expired dates is a very important food safety procedure and very time-consuming,” he said. “It needs to be thorough, and they do an excellent job with that.”

Starchia said he hired two students in paid positions who work year-round. One student who will graduate in August will continue working at Fresh Market, making an easy transition into the workforce.

Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding has partnered with the Consortium since the 1980s. Paraprofessional and vocational bus driver Doug Gardner said students clean up manure and move hay into the barn.

“This is a wonderful experience for the students to be able to work with and ride the horses,” he said.

Before riding, students groom the horses. They learn safe handling procedures, such as keeping a hand on the horse’s back, so the horse always knows where they are.

Next, students bring out the saddle, saddle pad and bridle, and tack up the horse for a riding lesson.

During the 20-minute lesson, students stop and direct the horse; they trot or play games like horseketball or ring toss to improve their balance while riding.

Waves Car Wash owner Mike Anthenelli said students have been working at Waves since he opened.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to learn new skills, interact with coworkers and make some money,” he said. 

Students start out on a trial basis to ensure a good fit.

“People are very critical about their cars, so we need to make sure they do a nice job and I trust them to do it,” he said. “They’re held accountable just like everyone else. They bring a special smile to our customers’ faces, and having them here adds fun to our day.”

When students reach their next-to-last year in the program, Graves works with their parents to place them in post-graduation vocational programs through Easter Seals, Salvation Army and Community Integrated Services. Some students go to college, and about four graduates each year are hired by the participating business they worked for during the program.

Cape Director of Business Operations Oliver Gumbs said the Consortium receives $6,000 in vocational funding from the state to cover supplies, materials and equipment for the program. Salary and vehicle-associated costs are separate and covered by the district as part of the overall Consortium Program.

“We are very fortunate to have so many businesses in our community willing to work with us,” Graves said. “It’s amazing to see what the kids can do and to watch them become part of the work family.”

Vocational Community Partners

Atlantic Sands Hotel - food prep, custodial

Auto Gallery - detailing

Bad Hair Day - salon prep, custodial, customer service

Beebe Healthcare - food prep, custodial, assembly, clerical

Big Fish Grill - food prep

Buffalo Wild Wings - food prep, custodial

Cape Henlopen School District Mail Run - sorting, delivery, customer service

Cape Henlopen High School Vending - inventory, stocking

Coastal Salon - salon prep, custodial

Cracker Barrel - food prep, custodial, customer service

Delaware Humane Association - animal socialization, custodial, clerical

Dolle’s Candyland - packaging inventory

Eastern Shore Pet Resort - animal socialization, shredding, delivery

Every1Fitness - custodial

The Factory - custodial, assist in gym

Harry K Foundation Food Bank - inventory, sorting, stocking, clerical, custodial

Fresh Market - stocking, customer service, custodial

Groomingdale’s Pet Salon and Spa - pet grooming/animal care

Grotto Pizza Grand Slam - food prep, custodial

Jungle Jim’s Waterpark - custodial, customer service

Lavender Farms - landscaping

Lefty’s Alley and Eats - custodial

Lewes Historical Society - landscaping, clerical

Lewes School - custodial

Little Vikings Preschool Program - assist in the preschool program

Lori’s Cafe - customer service, food prep, custodial

Matt’s Fish Camp - custodial, customer service

Meineke Car Care Center - stocking inventory

Midway Fitness Center - custodial, customer service

Movies at Midway - inventory, stocking, custodial, assembly, customer service

Milton Police Station - custodial

Milton Theater - custodial, clerical

New Covenant Presbyterian Church Soup Kitchen - food prep, customer service

Outback Steakhouse - custodial

Pac Sun - retail, customer service

Peppers - shredding, packaging items

The Pet Station - dog grooming, animal care

Rehoboth Animal Hospital - custodial, animal care

Rehoboth Library - restocking books, DVDs

Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding - general farm duties

Savannah Animal Hospital - custodial

SecureNet - computer repair, customer service

Shell We Bounce - custodial

Super G - food prep, stocking, bakery

Touch of Italy - food prep

Walsh Mechanical - small engine repair

Waves Car Wash - cleaning cars

Wawa - customer service, stocking, food prep

Zwaanendael Museum - customer service

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