Having the want-to

Flourish of Cullman’s JETs program gets students ready to work

Flourish students clean and landscape around the art works at Ave Maria Grotto. (Photo courtesy of Flourish of Cullman)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Flourish of Cullman helps people with developmental disabilities learn to manage their lives, including finding jobs that offer a competitive wage and at least some degree of independence. During the month of June, some Flourish students have been exploring the world of work, and at least one has found a job of her own.

Flourish’s Job Exploration Training program, or JETs, is funded through the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and offers students entering 11th or 12th grade the opportunity to spend two weeks in selected job sites around their communities, developing workplace skills and earning pay for their work.

Flourish co-founder and Director Melissa Dew told The Tribune, “It’s really about getting them to understand that work is important; that’s how we live, that’s how we survive. And so, just helping them get their foot in the door, get some experience so when they do get out of school, or if they want an afternoon job, they can do it. 

“So once we get the list of candidates from ADRS counselors, then we send out a letter to them, letting them know that they have been placed with us. And we give them a little questionnaire to kind of see what their likes and dislikes are, if they have any health issues, anything like that. And then we take from that pool of places that we have available, and then place those individuals in those job settings.”

Dew shared that her JETs students this year work at:

  • Ave Maria Grotto, helping clean and maintain the landscaping in the park, as well as helping organize items for upcoming events like Christmas at the Grotto
  • Van’s Sporting Goods and Victoria’s Hope thrift shop, learning about retail work and customer service
  • Warehouse Discount Groceries on State Road 157 in Cullman, stocking items and learning about the retail grocery business 
  • Cullman Middle School, cleaning and landscaping the campus

Ave Maria Grotto Manager Roger Steele said of the JETs students at his site, “We’re glad they’re here. It’s really a win-win situation for us here at the Grotto and also for Flourish, the JETs program. The students come here, they do just excellent jobs. And I know it’s helping them as well, developing job skills and what-not for their futures, going out into the market and getting employment, etc. 

“But it really is helping us, too. Here, you know, it’s four acres, but there’s a lot to landscape, especially to de-weed, raking leaves, sticks, just basically beautifying the place. It’s really a full-time job, so having them here, it’s really helping us get caught up, if that makes sense. It’s getting us to a point where we’ll be able to sort of manage it when they leave in July, whereas before, it was just running here and there, trying to pull this weed, pulling that weed.

“Just having them here has just, I think, done wonders for us. And I think it benefits them, as well, so I would recommend this program. As far as our experience with the students coming here, they’re managed properly, correctly — they have a manager with them — and they just do a wonderful job, so we’re glad they’re here.”

Victoria’s Hope owner April Bowen German said of her students, “They have been wonderful. I’ve fallen in love with those kids. They’ve been wonderful; they’ve helped us out, especially with us not having many people up there — it’s been basically like four people — it’s been great to have another set of hands. They’ve helped us with sorting, they’ve helped us with unloading donations, they’ve vacuumed; they’ve done pretty much anything we’ve asked them to do. We have three of them, and they have just done an awesome job.

“I look forward to seeing them every day. So we’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve noticed each one of them have their own special thing that they bring to the table, and so we’ve found their niche. We have one that she does really good at hanging the clothes, and one that does a great job putting together things that we would never normally put together — he does that — and they work so good. They’re doing a great job.

“And their supervisors are great, helping me keep them occupied and keeping them doing something, and I think they’re having a lot of fun, as well.”

Went as a JET, stayed as an employee

Alison Love, a JETs student, went to Warehouse Discount Groceries, where her work skills impressed the management enough for her to receive a job offer. 

Said Dew, “That’s what we hope happens out of a lot of the placements, is having jobs available to them if they want to work, you know, after school, weekends and things like that while they’re still in school.”

Having the want-to

“We have 15 participants that are participating this year, and every one of them show up every day wanting to work and make money. I think that’s the biggest thing you can say about them, is that they have the want-to. My PawPaw used to always say, ‘If you have the want-to, you can about do anything.’ 

“So these individuals have the want-to, for sure, to improve their lives and to see where life can take them, because everybody’s always told them that they can’t. And now, we are telling them they can.” 

Flourish students Noah Vickers and Alison Love check stock at Warehouse Discount Groceries. Love was hired by the store as a result of her performance during JETs. (Photo courtesy of Flourish of Cullman)

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W.C. Mann