A few days ago, I spoke with Bridget who is an Upper Dauphin Area (UDA) Life Skills teacher. Life Skills classes are specially designed for students with intellectual disabilities in order to prepare and equip these students with the important practical skills they will need to transition out of High School and into the workplace.
Situated in rural Dauphin County, Bridget explained that there are very few businesses nearby who could partner with the class in offering opportunities to develop skills through workplace experiences. So, Bridget decided to teach life skills to her students through partnering with charities. “It’s important to open their eyes to the needs around them,” Bridget explained. “The most important skill my students are learning is compassion.”
For the past 7 years, the UDA Life Skills class has been holding a collection drive for Bethesda Mission. For the first five years, they collected socks, then switched to collecting blankets and have been running a very successful blanket drive for the last three years. When the blankets come in, the students then practice a variety of number skills by charting and graphing the types of blankets they collected!
Earlier in the year, the UDA Life Skills class also came to visit Bethesda Mission in order to help serve the meal at our evening soup line. Volunteering in this way opened up many valuable opportunities to teach and practice new skills.
Students in Life Skills classes often struggle with communication skills, so the ability to practice communicating by simply asking which dessert each person who came through the line wanted, or working alongside the guys who prepared the meal, provided the kinds of experiences that you just can’t get in a classroom. Additionally, Bridget explained to me that many of these students would like to get jobs at restaurants after graduation, so getting some experience in a kitchen, serving food, and interacting with the cooks is extremely valuable!
After serving the meal, the students were invited to eat dinner with some of our guests. Bridget shared that the insights the students were able to get from talking with the men is something they will carry with them for a lifetime. Bridget herself has been volunteering with Bethesda Mission’s Mobile Mission along with her friend and classroom aide, Elizabeth K., for a number of years now, and is excited to pass down some of what she’s learned by working with the homeless to her students: “Many people believe that homelessness is always a choice, but after talking with the guys, it is easy to relate to their stories and see how it could happen to anybody.”
It brings me great joy to know that Bethesda Mission can help students gain practical life skills by simply opening our doors up to volunteers, while the students were able to both learn about and start meeting the needs of their struggling neighbors.
[You can follow UDA Life Skills on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/UpperDauphinLifeSkills]