New Trier alumna and Wilmette business owner Julie Cohen says her life has come full circle since partnering with the New Trier Work Training Program, which was established by New Trier Special Education Transition Services to provide a more comprehensive school-to-work program for students with different abilities.
"I couldn't wait to call my parents because they used to come while I was in high school and after when I was in college to work with students through the Special Olympics," Cohen said. "There was a teacher [at New Trier] named Lou Goldstein, and for my junior and senior year, I would volunteer during my free periods and help with the Special Olympics and run the summer program."
Over the past semester, student Sam Green has spent Wednesday and Friday mornings working at Cohen's boutique, Hubba-Hubba in downtown Wilmette, under the supervision of his job coach Adam Vogltanz.
"I come at the tail end of them being here, but they pretty much do a very good surface cleaning, vacuuming, and dusting-I don't think my lighting has ever been so dust-free," she said. "There's something about a [clothing] store that the fibers kick up the dust and every day there's new dust bunnies."
Cohen describes the relationship she has formed with Green over the past three months as reciprocal. In addition to the obvious benefit of bi-weekly cleanings, Cohen enjoys being able to collaborate with New Trier again while Green expands his resume and communication skills.
Since its inception in 2006, the Work Training Program has partnered with over 30 area businesses for job training, which sometimes can turn into regular employment opportunities. New Trier Transition Coordinator Diane Wojcik says collaborating with employers has opened up for her students many more opportunities to gain hands-on work skills, which can ultimately lead to competitive employment in their future.
"The program provides students with different opportunities so they have a resume when they leave us, and a lot of different skills and habits that they're used to," Wojcik said. "Everybody's culture is different, and we help students adapt to that in each unique worksite."
From socializing chickens at Wagner Farm to shelving books at local libraries, the program provides community-based, functional, and real-world curriculum in the area of career education. Though they have had to improvise this year and do more job-training on campus due to the pandemic, Wojcik hopes this fall students will be back in more community businesses and hopes to continue forming partnerships with local businesses and making the program more comprehensive.
"For junior and senior year, I was so happy to leave school and go manage a gift souvenir wall at a pharmacy in Hubbard Woods," Cohen said. "So had I not had that experience, who knows what I'd be doing now? So I feel like to give high school kids of all levels that experience is a win-win."
Local business owners who would like to collaborate with the Work Study Program or learn more information can email Diane Wojcik at firstname.lastname@example.org , or Vocational Coordinator Dan Bruzdzinski at email@example.com .