Success stories grow for Ewing School program

MARIETTA – Daniel Bigley doesn’t make any money when he works on Thursdays with a Marietta College grounds crew.

His compensation is experience and camaraderie.

“Main reward is going to see the guys,” the 2012 Fort Frye High School alumnus said. “They’re proud of me.”

Bigley is one of 10 students participating in Project W.A.V.E. (Washington County Access to Vocational Enrichment), a transitional program to help young adults with disabilities prepare for employment, independent living and involvement in their community. Run by Ewing School and in its 10th year, the program offers classes on Monday and Friday on the second floor of Selby General Hospital. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the students help out with tasks around the hospital and go to internships with various businesses and organizations. March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and the 2013 theme is “Look Beyond.” According to a news release from WASCO Inc., which serves adults with developmental disabilities and like Ewing is under the Washington County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the theme encourages people to see that those with disabilities can contribute meaningfully to their community.

And that includes in the workplace, said Marke Vickers, the Ewing intervention specialist and teacher who oversees Project W.A.V.E.

“This community needs to embrace people of difference and hopefully give them jobs,” she said. “They are very capable … young students who can do a wide variety of things in the community.”

Students in Project W.A.V.E. have finished their high school careers but are holding off on receiving their diplomas while they participate in the program, for which they are eligible until they turn 22. The students aren’t going to college, Vickers said, but they are higher functioning than adults employed in WASCO’s sheltered workshop.

Some of the students were forthcoming about their disabilities when being interviewed, pointing out which tasks are more difficult for them. David Myers, a 21-year-old Frontier High School alumnus, said tying trash bags is a challenge for him since he cannot use his right arm as a result of a traumatic brain injury sustained when he was much younger.

“We teach everybody in this class to be able to recognize what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are,” Vickers said. “We build up our strengths by doing all these things.”

On their classroom days, they have speakers come in and work on skills like interpersonal relations, having a professional attitude and life skills such as cooking and wellness. The students talk about issues they’re dealing with, such as when one recently moved out of his parents’ house and to a group home, and encourage and joke with each other.

Project W.A.V.E. is based at Selby because it is based on a similar venture at a Cincinnati-area hospital. The students start out doing tasks at the hospital before moving on to other sites.

“The first month they’re here, Marke and I will be with them throughout the hospital,” said Stacey Urbaniak, assistant instructor and coordinator. “Then they’re pretty much on their own.”

On Tuesday, before Vickers took them to their work sites outside the hospital, students fanned out to gather linens and take out trash. One group paused as a patient was wheeled into his room on a bed, and one of them, 2011 Marietta High School alumnus Scott Penrod, took a moment to explain the etiquette.

“We usually just wait ’til the people go through with the beds, because they come first,” he said.

Penrod worked Tuesday at East of Chicago Pizza on Pike Street, setting tables for the lunch hour before waiting tables and delivering refills to customers.

“The customers really like him,” said East of Chicago supervisor Tammy Lee. “I heard that last week he even got a tip.”

Meanwhile, Bigley and 2012 Warren alumna Taylor Padgitt were at the Original Pizza Place on Second Street. Bigley worked in back washing dishes while Padgitt was at the front counter, folding boxes and refilling drinks.

Kasandra Ruscitto, marketing manager for the Original Pizza Place, said both students have gotten more responsibility since starting to work there a few weeks ago.

“It’s good. It’s fun,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to see them become more independent.”

While the students rotate to different sites on different days, several of them have ones they like best.

“My favorite, favorite, favorite, favorite internship is at the O’Neill senior center,” said Clarissa Hendershot, a 21-year-old MHS alumna.

Hendershot said she enjoys playing games and just talking with elderly clients of the center’s adult day care center. The feeling is mutual, said Lisa Turner, day care center manager at the O’Neill Center.

“She loves to talk with the clients and tell them stories and keep them entertained,” Turner said. “She’s a big help. The one-on-one is so great for them because they need that stimulation.”

Bigley’s favorite is collecting and breaking down recyclables with the ground crew at Marietta College.

Mark Theobald, grounds supervisor at the college, said they’ve been playing host to Project W.A.V.E. students for several years and have never had a bad experience. Bigley and others seem to truly appreciate the opportunity to come to work on the campus, he said. And the workers enjoy having Bigley around.

“He always makes it a point to tell me … how glad he is to come and how he hopes he can come back,” Theobald said. “He can go hang out with the guys and be one of the guys.”

Supervising Bigley may occasionally require a little extra effort and patience, but it’s worth it for the effort he shows and the smiles he brings joking around with the workers, Theobald said.

“He’s always willing to work and try his hardest,” he said.

Marietta High School alumna Casey Hague listed working in the Marietta College cafeteria as her favorite job.

Zach Strickler, a 2011 Parkersburg Catholic High School alumnus, said his responsibilities include shredding confidential documents for Marietta Memorial Hospital and Ewing School. He didn’t have a particular favorite, but laughed when Vickers and Urbaniak said trying new things was probably his least favorite.

The group also does fundraisers to support their activities, including mowing lawns and other yard work.

“We go to their houses, and we rake all their leaves,” said Brittany Jazdzewski, who finished at Marietta High School in 2012.

Although the internships are unpaid, the hope is that the experience will help the students land regular jobs. In fact, two of them – Penrod and 2011 Marietta High School alumnus Tanner Buck – have already been hired to work in the cafeteria and dining room at Marietta College.

It’s a model Myers hopes to follow as he does an internship at We Luv Pets in the Lafayette Center.

“I want to go overboard with that job so I can get a paid job there,” he said.

Vickers said the students may be able to meet needs for businesses that need a little part-time help around busy times, jobs that folks looking for full-time work might not be interested in taking.