Volunteer Spotlight: “My eyes were opened!”

This week students with disabilities from across the District are investing in their future. Trading in the typical spring break parties and relaxation, these students will spend the week improving interview skills, learning to manage finances and crafting compelling resumes.

Conversely, volunteers from across the area are also giving of their time and talents to ensure these children are prepped for success. It’s a meaningful experience that resonates with volunteers for years to follow. We sat down with former Co-op board member and DC3C volunteer, Terri Taylor, to hear more about her experience.

Stereotypes are harmful. For students with disabilities, assumptions about their capabilities can mean the difference between gainful employment or being locked out of the workforce.

That’s where the DC Special Education Cooperative (The Co-op) comes in. Its DC3C Spring Break program provides students with college preparedness, professional development and interview experience. The program helps students to make a strong first impression and communicate the value they bring to the workforce.

Former Co-op Board Member Terri Taylor volunteered as a mock interviewer at Spring Break in 2017 and was deeply impacted by the experience. “My eyes were opened, even though I’d served on the Co-op Board and worked as a teacher myself. We have a tendency to lump students with disabilities together. Like any other teenager, the DC3C students had unique ambitions and goals,” shared Terri.

Mock interviewing is a critical first step for students with disabilities. Having a chance to practice can increase the odds of landing a paying job by helping students feel more confident and comfortable with the interview process.

Terri witnessed the power of mock interviewing firsthand. “Experience is critical. Some of the students seemed shy at first, but they became less so during the interview process,” she recalled.

Learning job readiness skills in high school makes a huge difference. Studies found that students are approximately 80% more likely to be employed or enrolled in post-secondary education if they have a paid work experience during high school.

The Co-op designs its job readiness program to be an easy sell to busy professionals. For Terri, the program was so compelling that she brought 10 colleagues from her office to volunteer!

“Spring Break is an opportunity to make a difference for young people in 2-3 hours. The program is thoughtfully designed. It is fun, fast moving, content rich, and action oriented.”

In just a few hours, The-Coop executes an event that is engaging and effective for both students and volunteers. Students receive interview training, resume support, and business cards. Volunteers receive a day-of orientation, prompts, and support throughout the event.

All of the preparation helps students to shine. Terri was deeply impressed with the students she met. “You hear a lot about the younger generation lacking drive. The young people I met demonstrated ambition. Every single student opened my eyes to how I might have had expectations that were too low.”

Students with disabilities are willing and ready to work. Meeting them and helping them to prepare for their first job is a life-changing experience for everyone involved.

Terri reflected on the impact volunteering had on her colleagues, “I went to Spring Break to have a team building with some of my colleagues. We were going to help some students out, but what has stood out in my memory of the event is that students with disabilities have great potential and can thrive in the work environment.”

To learn more and to volunteer visit www.exploredc3c.org today.