There’s no doubt that making the leap from high school to adulthood is a challenging time. For young adults with disabilities, the process can mean moving from the security of the school environment to the unknown. In the end, young people with disabilities experience significant isolation and a disconnect from the community.

At the same time, teenagers with disabilities have the same questions most new graduates do when they first get out of high school – Where do I go next? What do I do? How will I make connections outside of the school environment? What kind of skills do I need to get and keep a job? – but the barriers to meeting their goals are often greater.

“Getting that start on adult life can be a difficult transition, and that’s where our new program comes in,” said Shelley Zielinski, director of adult support services at Pine Tree Society.

Pine Tree Society has designed a new kind of Community Support program specifically for young adults who are transitioning from high school.

This innovative program is called 368 and is named after its address at 368 Minot Avenue in Auburn. The small group setting allows for meaningful social connection and the focus on prevocational skill building, career exploration and career planning is supported through volunteerism that provides a foundation for networking and building relationships in the community that can lead to job or educational opportunities down the road.

“We start by asking what people are interested in and by learning what each person’s strengths are,” said Shelley. “People who are in the program are engaged because they are actively creating the program with us based on what their interests are.”

One area of interest for many clients is sports and recreation, which has led to participation in Special Olympics.

“Often, people who come into this program were involved with Special Olympics in high school. After high school that gets lost because they don’t continue to have that opportunity,” said Shelley. “This program brings in a recreational piece that focuses on Special Olympics training and competition to further enhance wellness, build self-confidence and a feeling of team and community.”

By participating in activities like Special Olympics, the participants are also working to build communication and social thinking, critical skills especially for those who are working toward meaningful employment.

“We know how important communication and social thinking are for the people we serve, so we have pulled in the expertise of our Speech Language and Assistive Technology team at Pine Tree Society,” said Shelley. “The outcome is a fun, engaging program that is helping to build skills that can have a transformational impact.”

The team has also worked to integrate technology into the program as a method to communicate and engage. iPads and specialized apps are used for skill building, playing games and learning how to create a resume and apply for a job online.

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