CAMAS VALLEY — Rob Brown was hired to be the transition specialist at Camas Valley Charter School three years ago with no real job description or expectations.

At a time when the only existing program in Douglas County was in Elkton, Oakland High School started a Youth Transition Program at the same time.

Charlotte Dolan of Oakland and Brown invited Elkton’s YTP Coordinator Duane Madison to lunch so they could learn more about the program.

Three years later, Brown welcomes the freedom of the program and the ability to create programs tailored to specific students.

In its most basic form, the Oregon Youth Transition Program is designed to prepare students with disabilities for employment.

Brown said most of the students in the program have individualized learning plans or identified disabilities, but some students have other barriers to employment that qualifies them for the program.

A team of people — Brown, a vocational rehabilitation specialist, special education director Bill Storey and vice principal Tyler Ochs — decide what students participate in the program.

“The key elements are students who want to work or want to find a job,” Brown said. “Desire is a big piece.”

Students who have the desire to start working will meet with Brown to find a balance between their ideal job and their capabilities. Some students have physical barriers, others have learning disabilities.

“We guide them to a decision that’d be better,” Brown said. “Mostly, I’ve been the one who’s had to change ideas.”

One of those was a student who wanted to work at a company with his father. The student was able to get a summer job at the company, get a union card and is now balancing school and work while working toward an alternative diploma.

Jewels Hamilton joined the program and hopes to become a veterinary technician, which requires at least two years of college.

Through the program, she was able to start working at For The Love of Paws in Roseburg, near where she lives.

“It helps a lot,” she said. “It makes a difference.”

Hamilton lives on her own in Roseburg and also works extra hours at the Dairy Queen to be able to afford rent, food, and pet food and supplies for her four cats. But, the high school senior decided to stay enrolled at Camas Valley because she had formed connections at the school and enjoyed the small school atmosphere.

“I’m tired of switching schools,” she said, adding that her seventh grade year she attended school in three different school districts.

Through the youth transition program she was able to find employment, while they also helped her get shoes and clothing.

The school works with local businesses and has hopes to get more businesses involved.

“We’re tying to help build a future for these students,” Brown said. “They need to be given the opportunity to learn and make mistakes. They can learn to be quality employees. This is going to be an opportunity (for businesses) to train from the ground up, but it may take a little bit of patience.”

The first experience students often get is by working in the student store, cleaning the buses, and helping around the school.

Students also get lessons on how to live on their own, including managing finances and household tasks.

“They get a vision of what’s out there,” Brown said, adding that some of the students have no role models in their lives.

Students are also being taught social skills in how to interact with an employer and colleagues.

Brown said he has done official intakes with 10 students, but is working with a few more students who have not gone through the intake process yet. Additionally, the program is able to help people after graduation until they turn 21.

The school also tries to involve the families. “It’s more successful when we do,” Brown said.

A problem Brown ran into when he started running the program was that some students are limited to the number of hours they can work so their family remains eligible for social security or disability benefits. He has since learned the limitations and how much a student can work without impacting the family income.

Another obstacle that impacts Camas Valley is a lack of transportation. A bus comes into town once a week and most students don’t have driver’s licenses, or cars.

Hamilton said transportation was a huge obstacle for her. Even though she has her driver’s license, she’s unable to pay for registration and insurance on her truck to make it legal to drive to and from work or school.

Instead she walks 35 minutes to For The Love of Paws to get to work.

Umpqua Community College helped several students at the school get drivers licenses during the summer, while vocational rehabilitation funds helped pay for permits for other eligible students.

The Youth Transition Program was established in 1990 as a partnership between the office of vocational rehabilitation, Oregon Department of Education and the University of Oregon.

Programs are renewed every two years. This school year, some students in Sutherlin, South Umpqua and Riddle will also have the opportunity to participate in the Youth Transition Program.

At Camas Valley, two transition classes were added and Brown has realized that Youth Transition Programs aren’t rigorous for a good reason.

“We do what we want to make it fit,” Brown said, adding that each student require his or her own plan and opportunities.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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