Learning job and life skills: see how United Ability prepares students with disabilities for work

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United Ability Employment Services “GROW” Program at Black Jack Farms. Photo via United Ability

“We have students who have been told NO their whole life. United Ability says YES.”

Those empowering words came from Katie Dumais, Director at United Ability Employment Services, and April Blake, Manager of Transition Services, who filled me in on the importance of United Ability’s employment services program for high school and college-aged students with disabilities.

Katie and April know the importance of a job and how it changes lives. That’s why they were excited to tell me about United Ability’s new partnership with Alabama Department of Rehab Services in the creation of a new workplace learning program called GROW.

A Timely Program

United Ability Employment Services leadership team. Photo via United Ability

According to Katie, because so many services were shut down during COVID, United Ability wanted to ensure they had programs that would help students with disabilities find and maintain meaningful employment.

That’s why GROW is the right program at the right time.

Here’s how it works:

  • GROW is a 60-day training program for students with disabilities. 
  • It has two worksites—Black Jack Farms and Hilton UAB
  • Students work 5 days a week for 4 hours a day.  
  • There are job coaches on site.  

“The goal of the program is employment. At the end of the training, we assist our students in job development activities, such as resume building, job applications, interview skills and job placement.” — Katie Dumais, Director, United Ability Employment Services

Along with work skills, GROW also teaches social skills students need to get and maintain a job. Some of the things they learn include:

  • Hygiene
  • How to speak to fellow workers and supervisors 
  • Ways to manage emotions at work

“This is important for everyone, but especially our students who have disabilities. This pre-employment aspect is important to them. We don’t want them to graduate high school and become a couch potato. We want them to have the skills to have a better quality of life. Work is a huge part of everyone’s life, whether you have a disability or not. We want them to be everything they can be.”

A Huge Success

United Ability Employment Services “GROW” Program at Hilton UAB. Photo via United Ability

United Ability’s GROW program has been a huge success by placing 13 students at Black Jack Farms and Hilton UAB—two very different workplaces.

“At Black Jack Farms we have eight students who work from 8AM-Noon, Monday through Friday. There is a lot of character building and manual labor. It is outside of their comfort zone. The students get to interact with horses, paint the fences, work in the barns, and help each other out.” — April Blake, Manager of Transition Services, United Ability 

Caption: United Ability Employment Services “GROW” Program at Black Jack Farms. Photo via United Ability

At UAB, they help with housekeeping and the restaurant—the LAB Bar & Kitchen.

New Students Welcome

United Ability is currently seeking new students for the program’s next round of training, which begins in late November.

“What we would love is for the community to know about this program. If you have a 18-24 year old who qualifies, reach out to their vocational rehab counselor and ask them to connect you to GROW. We are actively recruiting and taking referrals for students.” — Katie Dumais, Director, United Ability Employment Services

Make a Difference

Need more information about this life-changing program? Contact United Ability Employment Services.

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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