Courtesy photo: Young Adult Transitions Program intern Seth Sahr stands beside the serving counter at Larson Commons on South Dakota State University’s campus. Through his internship with the YAT Program through Advance, he discovered his love and passion for cooking. He has been an intern with YAT for the past two years and will be fully ready for the workforce at the beginning of this summer when he turns 21.

A program offered through Advance is helping young adults with special needs to become as independent as possible.

Last week, the Young Adult Transitions Program (YAT) held an open house hosted by their interns to welcome in members of the community to display their skills they’ve developed through the program. 

The YAT Program (a division of Advance) began in July 2016 and offers an internship to young adults within the school system who need special services. Typically, when the individual graduates high school, they are not yet quite ready to hold down a job and be self-sufficient. 

This program bridges that gap.

Director of Day Services Amanda Hemmestad, Young Adult Transition Instructor Ramona Kauk and star-intern Seth Sahr met with The Brookings Register to discuss what YAT is and the various services and activities it has to offer.

“Prior to 2016,” Hemmestad said, “students who were in school districts were able to come and instead of really being pushed into the workforce and given every opportunity to be as independent as possible in getting jobs out there, they could come into our sheltered workshop and do piece-range assembly; and so there has been a really positive change because Seth will never have to do that. Seth is being pushed to get out there and get a job and be a part of the community.”

According to the YAT pamphlet, “The Young Adult Transitions Program, in partnership with area school districts, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and Employment service providers, offers students and youth with disabilities the training, opportunities, and services to achieve competitive and integrated employment, as well as live, participate, and have a meaningful role in their communities.”

The YAT Program works with 23 school districts. This program works as a part of Section 511 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that was implemented in 2016.

“We have the advantage of having Project Search here at SDSU, and that’s a really great program for some students, not for others, and so for a couple of our interns that we’ve had here, four of them have gone on and worked with us when they’re 19 or 20, and on their last year they’ve gone onto Project Search,” Hemmestad said.

Hemmestad said that YAT and Project Search differ in that Project Search is through the school district and helps students develop and work within a specific job, whereas YAT is focused on the individual and their own specific goals and aim to maximize self-sufficiency and self-confidence.

Kauk said that currently, YAT has 16 interns, and each one has their own job and list of assigned tasks and goals to achieve every week. They practice spelling names, counting money, and learning addresses and phone numbers.

“All that is essential for applications for work, applications for housing; it’s so important to know all of that,” Kauk said. “We want to meet every intern where they’re at.”

The interns have plenty to learn and do in a single day. They all have their morning lessons that can pertain to readiness, social skills, community education, independent living skills, personal care, and self-advocacy. Then they do various things like touring around certain parts of the community to familiarize themselves with the area, volunteering, vocational practices, counting money, and applications.

To continue the day, they have lunch which they sometimes make on their own for everyone, journal prompts, STEM activities, grocery shopping and then wellness activities. Each intern also rides the BATA bus on their own to and from work.

Sahr has had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) since he was 6 months old. This means that he has had a specialized trajectory of learning with the help of specialized services his entire life. When he was ready to graduate high school, he and his family weren’t sure what he was going to do because he wasn’t entirely prepared to be out in the workforce. That’s when he found the YAT Program back in 2018.

Sahr’s mother, Stacy Sahr, said that the YAT Program has helped her son become self-sufficient and proficiently learn the skills needed to be in the workforce regardless of what that specific job is.

“There’s a huge gap between the school system and adult services, and we both (Hemmestad and Kauk) have a long history of working with Advance. We have seen that gap when we see students come into our services, and we really just want to try and bridge that,” Hemmestad said. 

For more information, contact Hemmestad at 696-5269 or amanda.hemmestad@advancebkg.com, or visit https://www.advancebkg.info/young-adult-transitions

For more information on the Section 511 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, visit https://transitionta.org/sites/default/files/Section%20511_0.pdf.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at mrhodes@brookingsregister.com.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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