Three days a week, KC Foster makes sure every coffee station at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is fully stocked and clean. Then he moves on to the copiers, loading them with paper.
And he enjoys it.
Foster, 21, has disabilities. The Gaithersburg resident is spending the academic year in the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes’ Sally and Robert Goldberg Maryland Meaningful Opportunities for Successful Transitions program (MOST). It is a one-year transitional program for individuals with disabilities who have aged out of the public school programs.
The Federation and JFGH are hoping prospective employers will realize that hiring people with disabilities is good for an organization. In addition to being good for the employee, it sends a strong message that everyone is welcome, said Lisa Handelman, community disability inclusion specialist at the Federation.
In a work setting, people with disabilities learn to model behavior and feel part of a group while those who work with them grow comfortable around people who are different.
Under federal law, special education students are entitled to a public school education until they are 21 years old.
But there was a need for other programs for these individuals once they left the public school programs, said Vivian Bass, CEO of JFGH.
When her organization became aware of “this unmet need,” it started the MOST program in Montgomery County in 2008. It was extended to Fairfax County in 2011.
“It’s important that individuals don’t regress from the skills that they learn,” Bass said.
Although it is only a one-year program, “we see that it has an impact for a lifetime,” Bass said.
People might flounder after they leave school, she said.
MOST participants learn to become independent. MOST shows them how to manage their money, cook a meal, use public transportation and gain job skills. It also helps them grow socially.
Foster not only works at the coffee station and copier, he also inputs data into the computer. When not at the Federation, he works with Rehabilitation Opportunities in Germantown, to assemble boxes.
And the best part, Foster said, “My coworkers are very friendly and very nice.”
Some of the other 15 participants work at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and Sunflower Bakery. In past years, participants have worked at Habitat for Humanity, Walgreens, Roland Construction, T. J. Maxx and Manna Food Center.
Each participant is assigned a job coach. Amadu Bah helps Foster write a resume, stay on task and socialize with other MOST participants.
“He tells me what do and what not to do. He’s like Jiminy Cricket,” Foster said.
MOST is not only about work. Participants work on art projects, bowl and visit museums together.
The program also strives to involve the entire family. “We have a parent advocate group to talk about issues surrounding transition,” said Marcy Bennett, director of the program. Family members discuss concerns, future options and share stories, she said.
“Most of them are thinking of future planning, what happens next with their child’s independence.”
With a year of work on their resumes and references, MOST goes a long way toward answering that concern, she said.