For the past six years, the Metroparks have partnered with Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) and supporting partners to offer a skills training program for high school students with disabilities at various Metroparks interpretive centers throughout Macomb County as part of a greater mission to help overcome workforce barriers within the communities they serve.
The annual program, which takes place every summer, aims to bridge the gap between first jobs and learned working skills. Each student is paired with a Metroparks job coach, chosen by the MRS and the partner agency, for a six-to-eight-week on-the-job learning experience. In 2022, Metroparks worked with New Horizons Rehabilitation Services.
“One of the most important commitments we’ve made is ensuring the parks serve all community members, all their lives,” said Metroparks Director Amy McMillan, “and partnering with community organizations who share inclusive missions helps us live that promise.”
Each year, the program enrolls several high school students from Macomb County, ages 18-24, paid for by MRS and New Horizons, who attend classes five days a week for six hours a day to mimic a real-life job schedule.
This year, students worked at Lake St. Clair Metropark on a variety of tasks such as
- Daily cleaning, tidying, and simple maintenance of the Nature Center including supporting animal care
- Park maintenance tasks including picking up litter/recycling, collecting used fishing line from tubes, and trimming trails
- Assisting with set-up and break-down of summer camp activities
- Voyageur canoe cleaning and maintenance
- Greeting and welcoming park visitors
- Weeding/invasive species removal
In previous years, students at the Wolcott Mill Metropark Farm Center would help with cleaning buildings, including restrooms, offices, animal barns and pens, like the chicken coop and sheep barn. They would also help with programming setup, weeding in the garden, and emptying the trash around the Farm Center.
“Our mission is to provide employment and education-related services and training to assist teens and adults with disabilities in preparing for, securing, retaining, advancing in, or regaining employment,” said Tina Fullerton, Director of Michigan Rehabilitation Services. “Working in collaboration with great partners such as Huron-Clinton Metroparks and New Horizons allows us to broaden our reach and effectively support individuals with disabilities in developing career paths and becoming employed.”
At least one of the students who participated in the program has been hired as a part-time employee at the Wolcott Mill Metropark Farm Center and has been working there since completing the program four years ago.
“The goal of this program is to equip students for successful careers,” said McMillan, “So you can imagine how thrilled we were to have a participating student bring their talent and learned skills to our team.”
The Metroparks offers one of the country’s leading and largest interpretive and environmental education programs and making it accessible to students with disabilities is one of the parks’ priorities.
The partnership program is expected to resume in the summer of 2023 with a new cohort of students.