Special needs student TJ Ham finished the FKCC Access program on his 22nd birthday in which he learned skills to operate in the workforce and landed a job at the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.
“We find students a fit based on their goals,” said special needs teacher Ruth Holland. “I have two other boys that want to work in the security field so we are trying to partner with North Star Security.”
TJ had to complete a number of classes and started before high school. FKCC Director of College and Public Relations Amber Ernest-Leonard explained the programs TJ went through to get to where he is now in an email.
“Project ACCESS (Accessing Community College Educational experiences, Social experiences and Skills for careers) is a collaborative partnership with the Monroe County School District that builds upon their TIES Program (Transition into Independence, Employment, and Success), which serves K-12 students with disabilities,” the email read.
The FKCC program continues to serves those students, ages 18-22, after they earn a special high school diploma to continue their education past high school. The limited access program provides support and instruction in developing real world skills through community-based job training and coaching—including various jobs and activities at FKCC.
Students head to FKCC in the mornings and attend either ceramics or water safety class to fulfills requirements to participate in the Special Olympics. They then eat lunch at the Campus Café before going to work.
TJ took ceramics classes and worked in the FKCC Campus Café and Community Education and Testing Center. He cleaned facilities and delivered newspapers around campus, which prepared for his paper-shredding job at the aqueduct authority.
“By no means are these jobs hand outs. They have serious jobs and are a valuable attribute to the workplace,” said Holland.
Juliette Torres with FKAA human resources said TJ brings a positive energy to the company as well as does a great job at what he does.
“We used to have to hire a shredding paper service and since we hired TJ we do not need it,” said Torres with a tear of joy running down her face. “He is always so happy and brings a smile to everybody’s face.”
TJ has Down syndrome and cannot communicate as easy as most people do. He said he is happy to be working with FKAA by giving Torres a smile and high five. His father Terry could not be more grateful.
“It is unbelievable all the help and how people went above and beyond being a teacher. They even spent money out of their own pocket for items TJ needs,” said Terry.
All aspects of school are critical for special needs children to finally make it to the workforce. Holland said KWHS principle Amber Archer-Bosco has been extremely important in helping TJ as well.
There is also an app he uses to communicate called Proloquo2go and it is a $220 and essential for individuals with special needs. Anybody who wants to get involved or donate should contact Holland at [email protected].