By Taylor Burgess
For Skip Taylor, a job coach in the Turning Points transition program, finding daily motivation is far from difficult.
“Each morning, it takes me about two seconds to get over myself,” Taylor said. “I work with people who I’ve never heard complain, and never will.”
The people with whom Taylor works are eight students with disabilities—four from Mountain Brook City Schools and four from Homewood City Schools—who have completed high school and received graduation certificates but can remain in the school system until they are 21 years old. However, as the students can no longer attend classes at the high schools, Turning Points works to ease their transition into the workforce or higher education.
While in the program, students spend much of their time at Samford University, where they attend classes to learn money management and other practical skills as well as work at jobs under the supervision of Taylor and other Turning Points staff members.
Taylor, who grew up in Homewood on Saulter Road, adjacent to the Samford campus, said he sees Samford as the ideal location for the program.
“Students on campus have been very open and welcoming to us,” Taylor said. “When students notice us and engage and embrace us, there’s synergy created.”
Three days a week, Turning Points students gather in the morning at Samford’s Orlean Bullard Beeson School of Education.
“We started at two days a week, but we’re trying to get to five,” Taylor said. “Samford is extremely committed to what we’re doing.”
The students meet briefly in the classroom before going to their jobs.
Before leaving the classroom, the students are joined by Wendy Betsch, the program’s transition coordinator, who usually enters the room to enthusiastic greetings from students.
“She’s like a rock star to these kids when she walks in,” Taylor said.
From the education building, the students walk to two on-campus job sites, one in the cafeteria and the other in the university bookstore.
“The challenge is that even though they’ve all graduated, they’re at different skill levels. How do you meet all the needs?” Betsch said. “We match students’ skill sets with different job sites so they can do work that will best benefit them.”
In the past, Turning Points students have also worked in the university mailroom and stadium field house, Betsch said.
The students are diligent in their work and know what is expected of them, staff members said.
Student Kathryn Henckell, on entering the bookstore, walks directly to the manager’s office to receive her assignment—placing barcode stickers on water bottles.
Betsch said she believes the students, like Henckell, should be responsible.
“We want them to look at it as a real job,” she said. “They should come in, find the manager and check in, like they would anywhere else.”
Betsch also stresses the importance of job sites with management that supports Turning Points and is willing to work with the students at their skill levels.
In the cafeteria, students work other jobs. Betts Colquitt wipes dust from windowsills, while Darryl Stephens sweeps the floor of food and trash from the cafeteria’s most recent meal.
Colquitt has held other food service jobs outside of the program and so is already familiar with many of her cafeteria duties.
Betsch said she believes jobs like these are crucial for the students’ transition process because they use skills that help them develop.
“When they sweep or clean the windowsills, they’re focused and can pay attention to detail,” she said. “Also, repetitive teaching is good for students with disabilities.”
Taylor, supervising the cafeteria students, does repetitive work of his own, filling out detailed progress reports that carefully track each student’s morning progress at his or her work site. However, he works with as much verve as the students around him while explaining how he discovered his passion for the program.
“I’ve been working with special ability kids for over 10 years. I had been looking for a career change and ended up working with UCP (United Cerebral Palsy),” he said..
Then he got a call this summer asking him to join Turning Points.
“I thought, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of,’” he said.
Taylor said he had never seen an equivalent program in other school systems, much less one also working in partnership with a university.
Betsch said she, too, thinks the program is unique and regrets that other school systems can’t offer support to disabled students who have graduated.
“How do they assimilate into a family situation when they graduate? Without skills and assistance, many of these students will just end up back at home,” Betsch said.
To prevent this, students not only work campus jobs but in the afternoon also meet with speech therapists, train in other social skills, such as appropriate work dress, and exercise.
To further aid the students’ transition, Betsch and Taylor said they hope to see Turning Points expand.
“For the future, maybe, we’d like to give the students a dorm room to live in to prepare them for living in real life,” Betsch said. “The problem is that when students age out of the school system, they have nothing to support them anymore, and it’s rare for employers to grab them.”
Betsch said she hopes that continuing to train students in necessary skills through expanding programs will give students a better chance.
Taylor said he remains confident that these skills are benefiting Turning Points students in tangible ways.
“Some businessmen bring clients into California Pizza Kitchen, where Betts [Colquitt] works, just for her alone,” he said.
Taylor said programs for disabled students have come a long way since he was a student himself.
“When I was a junior in high school, a girl who was a quadriplegic, sat in the front of my class,” he said. “Nobody helped her, and I wish someone had. Now, there are peer helpers for students in Mountain Brook and Homewood schools.”
While sweeping, Stephens finds a bright red toothpick. He stops working for a moment and brings it to Taylor, who takes the find with a smile and places it on the table next to the progress reports.
“People who were on the outside before because of their disabilities feel good because they have a job,” Taylor said. “With our students, there is no black or white, or cool or uncool—they never complain, and they always show up.”
For more information about Turning Points, contact Wendy Betsch at email@example.com.