Wednesday, August 24, 2016

“Switching Gears” Summer Youth Program Helps Students

(L to R) Chad Beanblossom, Dean Edison State-Darke County; 2016 “Switching Gears” Summer Youth participants; Kathryn Osborne and Cheryl Pressly (Summer Youth Instructors).
The “Switching Gears” Summer Youth Program through the Darke County Board of Developmental Disabilities (Darke DD) helps students focus on career exploration, employment preparation and life skills. The five week program ran Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from July 12 through August 11, 2016 and was open to Darke County students, ages 14 and 15, who receive services from Darke DD. Most sessions were held at Edison State Community College’s Darke County Campus. Students participated in a variety of activities to help them build skills in communication and teamwork. Continuing to fund, coordinate and support a variety of programming to individuals with disabilities, this program is just one way Darke DD assists individuals with transition skills and with coordinating services between school, home and job-readiness training to help students develop a post-graduation plan.

During their first week students focused on communication by participating in hands on activities, listening to a guest speaker and completing a business tour. One favorite activity was “People Search Bingo” where students cover a bingo square by finding someone in the class with whom they have things in common. Although the students attend six different schools, this activity allowed them to learn more about one another and to develop bonds. Another activity was titled “Marvelous Me” whereas; each student received a snack sized bag of M & M’s. Before eating each M & M the students answered a question aloud based on the color of the candy. These activities and others helped them practice talking about their strengths, abilities, and interests. The guest speaker for week one was John Rediger. John previously worked with Darke DD to assist in his job search and was more than happy to share his experiences of working at Kroger, volunteering, driving, and being engaged in his community. John encouraged the students to aim high, work hard and never give up on their dreams. On Thursday, the students enjoyed a tour of The Merchant House. Cassie Campbell, Managing Partner, and her team treated the students to a delicious pizza that the students topped themselves. While touring the Merchant House they learned about a variety of jobs in food service and what it takes to be successful in that field.

Teamwork was the focus on week two and students competed to build the tallest structure using marshmallows and spaghetti. Throughout this activity the students learned the importance of working together and practicing clear communication to reach their goal. On Thursday, students visited Brookdale Senior Living Solutions to learn more about job opportunities in the health care field. Tina McClanahan, Sales Manager, provided a tour and told students about the jobs and skills needed for entry level positions.

Life skills and self-advocacy was the focus for week three. On Tuesday, students met in the OSU Extension Learning Center where they prepared their lunch of Taco Grande and Simple Apple Pie. This activity taught them the importance of food safety, hygiene, kitchen cleanliness, using measurements and following a simple recipe. On Wednesday, Sue Huston, Darke DD Community Connections Coordinator, and Brett Brinley, self-advocate, shared with the students about the importance of advocating for oneself throughout their entire life. Students learned how to participate in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings and how to speak up for themselves during life’s transitions. Brett also shared with the students about his disability, his strengths and the many large and small ways that he advocates for himself. On Thursday, Kristen Alspaugh, Employee Relations Manager, guided students through a tour of the Greenville Kroger store. Associates in each department shared their job duties and stressed the importance of customer service and giving back to their community.

Weeks four and five included more cooking classes at the OSU Extension Learning Center, more hands on learning experiences and a tour at Whirpool. Assuredly, the students learned more invaluable information regarding Darke County commerce and the skills it takes to be successful in their community. August 11 concluded the 2016 Switching Gears summer youth program and the students deserved a day filled with games, stories, learning exercises, graduation events and a pizza party!

The 2016 Switching Gears summer youth program has been a huge success for the students and staff alike. Darke DD could not have made this event a success without having wonderful partnerships with Edison State Community College, The Merchant House, Brookdale Healthcare, OSU Learning Center, The Kroger Co., Whirlpool, Marcos Pizza, Petermann Transportation and the Darke County Community as a whole. For all of your accommodations and support, Darke DD would like to give a huge THANK YOU to all!

Darke DD serves approximately 325 individuals with disabilities in various areas including; service and support administration, transition services, employment supports, volunteer coordination, and community connections. For more information, visit our website and be sure to like us on Facebook! Those who would like to learn more may also contact Rodney Willis, Community First Director at 937-459-4626 or

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