GAIL WHITE Work program gives disabled students a chance

Option IV is a work program through the Youngstown City Schools that places developmentally disabled students in appropriate work sites.
Cheryl Basista is the director of Option IV. She adds as much energy and enthusiasm to the program as she does expertise.
Cheryl has developed relationships with local businesses and organizations to place her students. Because of the excellent work reputation of Option IV workers, Cheryl has more requests for student workers than she has the capability of monitoring.
This school year, Cheryl has placed 16 students at work sites. Some of the students are mentally handicapped, others are physically impaired. All, however, have an undeniable will to succeed.
High praise
Ralph Bertanzetti, deputy director for the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association, is one of the partners Cheryl has recruited. He speaks highly of the students who have worked for the association.
"They give 125 percent" he says. "You can always count on them to do a good job."
Kim Sullivan of Sojourner House, a battered women's home, speaks of an Option IV hearing-impaired student working at the home.
"She has been with us two years," Kim smiles. "We just love her."
"She loves to play with the children. We have to watch. Sometimes, she will hurry through her work to play with them," Kim says. "She is so good with them." The pride in her voice is unmistakable.
Debbie Morris, manager of the Ronald McDonald House in Youngstown, shares similar sentiments.
"We have two students," she explains. "They love to crush the pop cans and clean the toys in the playroom." She stops to giggle. "It's fun to watch them play with the toys while they wash them."
Work of heart
Listening to these employers, I soon realize Option IV is more than a work program. It is a work of heart for all involved.
"It's more than just being an employer," Cheryl says. "It's being a mentor and a friend."
While the praises of these employers are a positive indication of the success of Option IV, the real proof lies with the students.
Six Option IV students work at St. Elizabeth Health Center every Thursday.
"They complete clerical packets, deliver flowers, work the information desk," says Maureen Metzgar, director of Volunteers at St. Elizabeth's.
A visit to the group finds them placing delicate lapel pins into jewelry boxes.
They are a lively crew, sitting around a table working on their task.
Mildred Johnson is the job trainer for the group. Every work site is assigned a job trainer.
"She teaches us what to do and keeps us in line," informs Isaac Gordon, an Option IV student from Rayen. "She reminds us to be neat and use our manners," he adds.
Quickly, I discern that Isaac and his fellow schoolmate, Justin Rose, are the group's comedians and reporters. They are both quick with a joke and are an interminable source of information -- about themselves and the others in the group.
Lonnie Morris, also of Rayen, often joins in their banter.
Danny Freeze, from Leonard Kurtz School, is full of pride. He graduates next month. His Option IV experience has prepared him for his new job. He will be a workshop aide at MRDD in Boardman.
John McGuire, from Rayen, has blossomed in Option IV as well.
"When he first came into the program last year John didn't talk at all," Mildred says.
Now, he joins the rest in their jokes and antics.
John Radovich uses the work skills he has learned in Option IV at his weekend job at Bob Evans.
"I wash 15,000 dishes," he informs me.
The pride in John's voice summarizes the success of Option IV.
Without his work experience through Option IV, he may have never washed one dish at Bob Evans -- because he may not have ever tried.

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