Students with disabilities gain job experience in dining halls

Among+the+goals+of+the+program+is+employment%2C+independence+and+natural+support+for+the+students.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Chris+Woffels+Twitter%29

Among the goals of the program is employment, independence and natural support for the students. (Photo courtesy of Chris Woffel’s Twitter)

Aliana Mediratta, Staff Writer

Dining halls on campus, already home to many beloved employees, also works with a local education program to give career training to students with disabilities.

Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 (CIU20), an educational program that provides a variety of educational services, especially to students with disabilities, serves Northampton, Monroe and Pike counties and has had a relationship with Lafayette’s dining services for over 10 years. The program brings students onto Lafayette’s campus specifically to gain job experience as they transition from an academic environment to the workforce.

Alicia Sweitzer, a transition coach for Colonial, stated that her work includes anything that could help with the process of transition, which includes finding activities for students after school.

“The general focus is for them to work independently, for the most part, and also form natural support, which is support in the business that comes naturally, like your go-to person. We work on establishing relationships within the staff and the students,” Sweitzer said. 

The students begin the process at age 14 with the Individualized Educational Program (IEP) team and are eligible for involvement until age 21, the age these students are allowed to remain in school until. Sweitzer stated that students she brings attend vocational-technical school and receive non-paid work experience through Colonial’s program. The majority of her students are over the age of 17 and most stay until they are 21. 

While Sweitzer acknowledged that some students may have difficulties with holding full-time positions after they age out, one of the main goals is employment, alongside independence and natural support. The program works with local businesses, including the college, to give students a sampling of different job experiences, with each position lasting for a semester. 

Jennifer Irani, a 20-year-old student who is working with dining services staff at Marquis Dining Hall this semester, reflected positively on her experience to date. Irani worked on campus during the spring semester last year when in-person dining first reopened.

While at Marquis, Irani works alongside Lamir Cobbs, another student in the program, to carry out duties such as cleaning tables and putting dishes away. While Cobbs and Irani are currently the only students involved with this program on-campus, Sweitzer added that numbers are lower right now due to mandates only allowing students who have received the vaccine to be eligible. 

She detailed how she enjoys talking to her coworkers and students while on-campus.

“I like the friends here, they’re very nice to me,” Irani said.

Irani added that, if she could get transportation up the hill, she would like to get a job with dining services after her semester ends. Alongside other places of work the program connected her to, such as Applebee’s and Friendly’s, she stated that she has learned a lot of skills through her experience here.

Sweitzer added that the partnership has been amazing for the students and for her as a transition coach.

“The majority of the staff we interact with at Marquis Dining Hall are so accommodating, friendly, have fun with us, listen and care for the students. We feel fully included and can truly say that the students enjoy going there,” Sweitzer said. “My student’s hard work does not go unnoticed to the staff at Marquis Hall and they are always appreciative of the help.”

According to Christopher Brown, Bon Appetit’s general manager, the program gives students valuable workplace experience.

“Students receive on-the-job feedback that helps them improve on key aspects of their performance while gaining valuable workplace-specific skills,” Brown wrote in an email. “We are proud to work with CIU20; the program provides a terrific opportunity for these young adults and we enjoy mentoring them.”