Wanted: Job Coaches

Mentors guide OCM BOCES students through real work environments

By Mary Beth Roach

If you are looking for part-time employment in which you can mentor young people in a workplace environment, then the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Counties Job Coach Program has the spot for you.

The program pairs up coaches with students with mild disabilities who are part of career development occupational studies. They travel together on school buses to work sites in the area and spend several hours either during a morning or an afternoon session. Coaches help their students acquire career skills.

The goal of the program is to get students into employable entry-level positions, according to Allison Jennings, work base learning coordinator for the Career and Tech Center at OCM BOCES.

“We’re trying to get students out in the community to get that hands-on authentic experience at an actual business,” she explained. While most of the businesses that take part are in food service, hospitality, and facilities and ground maintenance, the job coaches do not need experience in those fields.

As that program continues to grow, so does the need for job coaches. Currently, there are about 20 coaches, with 30 to 45 students on job sites. The coaches will have one or two students to oversee.

The job pays $14.50 per hour, according to Jennings, and while there are no benefits, like health care, the job is not without its own kind of bonus.

“To me, it’s just very rewarding working with these kids,” said Lexis Van Epps, 62, who has been a job coach for more than five years. She had moved to Central New York about seven years ago and had been looking for a job when she learned of the BOCES program.

“I enjoy working with children. I really like to teach them things. I like to see them do the work and see them graduate.”

-Adrian Vanmaarseveen, 80

Gratifying experiences

She talked of her experience with one student she had been with for four years. He had been working at Panera Bread, and she was so pleased to be able to watch him grow and blossom over that time, she said.

“At the end of those four years, he had developed a real relationship with the staff. That gave him so much confidence in his ability and skills. It’s great to see the kids grow,” Van Epps said.

Cheryl Borowski, 71, a retired educator, said she has learned so much through the program.

“I like the fact that I had young children for years, and now I’m working with older children in a completely different scenario,” she noted. When she connects with her students, ”it makes me feel good that they feel good,” she said.

Adrian Vanmaarseveen, who turns 80 in June, had been an engineer. Although retired, he still likes to work, so he became a job coach four years ago. It gives him the opportunity to give back to the community.

“I enjoy working with children,” he said. “I really like to teach them things. I like to see them do the work and see them graduate.”

He doesn’t miss their graduations.

Those interested in becoming a job coach can call or email Jennings. She will review the program with interested candidates in more detail. After an application is filed, there is an interview.

The prospective job coach will also be fingerprinted and a background check is done. Once hired, the new coach will shadow another coach and student before they’re matched up.

Jennings’ email address is ajennings@ocmboces.org and her phone number is 315-431-8516.

The program impacts more than just the coaches and students, according to Van Epps.

“It’s having people see these kids with disabilities being able to do these jobs,” she said. “I think that’s a real win in this program too.”

Photo: Adrian Vanmaarseveen became a job coach for the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Counties Job Coach Program four years ago. “I enjoy working with children,” he says. “I really like to teach them things. I like to see them do the work and see them graduate.”