Celebrating Transitions Program volunteers

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Students from the Opportunity Center Transitions Program who volunteered at the ADRC meal site at Hoffman Hall were honored with a cake. Pictured are (l-r) Alex Bartels - Wauzeka-Steuben, (10th grade), Riley Stuekie - PdC - (11th), Ashley Pavlovec -PdC, (9th), Dylan Day - PdC (12th), Deborah Lees, Hoffman Hall Site Director, Malikai Ray - PdC (12th); back row Victoria Storms - Wauzeka-Steuben - (12th)

The Prairie du Chien Transition Program students pose with their teachers, Dawn Iverson (l) and Kristy Knobke in their classroom at the Opportunity Center. ( Melissa R. Collum/ Courier Press)

By Melissa R. Collum

On May 17 students from Prairie du Chien and Wauzeka-Steuben high schools had a special celebration at Hoffman Hall. The students have spent the last semester volunteering at the ADRC meal site and this was the day to celebrate the graduating seniors and a job well done. The students are a part of the Opportunity Center Transitions Program. According to Pam Ritchie, CEO of the Opportunity Center, the program “is preparing them for how adult life is going to be. Not just about work, but how to be as independent as possible in life.”
There is a component to the Transitions Program that happens in the classrooms at the Opportunity Center. Students learn things such as money management, hygiene, shopping, laundry, and much more. “Basically they are learning adult basic living skills. We couple that with ‘how am I going to be successful in the work world,” states Ritchie. “Because if students have dreams of what they want to become, they have to make a living to make that happen, whether we live with a disability or not.”
The myriad of skills that are addressed by the classroom portion of the Transitions Program foster not only the skills but also the self confidence of the students. According to Richie, “they learn things such as how to talk with supervisors, and how to interview. They have mentorships and work experiences. We provide the soft skills training and in the community we provide an opportunities to put those skills learned in the classroom into practice.”
“Students gain that real world experience; like at Hoffman Hall and the Bargain Boutique, and the Animal Shelter. We look for those opportunities with non-profit organizations, where everyone volunteers their time, and we learn real life work skills,” notes Ritchie.  
Currently, the program has partnered with the Prairie du Chien and Wauzeka-Steuben school districts. The goal to expand the program and work with more school districts. Kevin Kilburg, Special Education Director for the Wauzeka-Steuben school district states that it is a wonderful program and that Wauzeka-Steuben hopes to continue and even expand the program for the next school year. “From the schools stand point it is a win-win situation,” notes Kilburg. “It gives the student opportunities, like mentorships, that we are not able to provide in our small community.” In order to qualify for the Transitions program each school district refers the students.
The students have worked at the ADRC meal site at Hoffman Hall since it opened. “The students have established a relationship with the seniors. The people there have worked to help the students feel valued and a part of that community. Isn’t that what we all seek?”notes Ritchie. “We are very, very grateful for our community for being so open and welcoming and letting out kids learn.”
Deborah Lees, Hoffman Hall Site Director, states “It has been a great opportunity. for me to work with the kids. It has given an opportunity for our seniors to meet the kids and interact with them. I love my job, I love my people, and I really love these kids.” According to one of the diners at the meal site the students are very helpful and are a bright spot to the day.”
According to Malikai Ray, a graduating senior at PdC high school volunteering at the meal site is “not too bad. They have good food and nice people. I like to talk to the people here and see how they are doing.” Ray is already employed at the Quality Inn and will continue working there after graduation.
What I would love to see is that every student that lives with a disability comes out of high school with the ability to be employed,” states Ritchie. “That we do not have a gap of time that they are having to wait for services or wait to have their  skills developed. We really want to see kids succeed. From what we have seen this year, they are ready to learn and take on the challenges we all expect to have . . . when you live with a disability, it seems that the expectations are different, and they should not be. We all should be loved and supported to live to our fullest potential.”

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