A small stack of red plastic cups and a ball of yarn were enough to give Micah Highfill and Aaron Soderfelt the right tools to establish a new friendship.
The two local students could be seen working together on a team-building exercise at the Tulsa Tech Owasso campus Thursday as part of a summer workforce initiative for youth with disabilities hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Highfill and Soderfelt spent Thursday morning carefully coordinating their movements over a table of unsteady saucers in DRS’ live BEST camp — Building Employment Skills for Today — through the organization’s post-secondary Transition Program.
They both said they took a lot away from the week-long program, held July 12-16, which gave them an opportunity to grow their knowledge and hone their talents.
“I learned how to get a job, and job etiquette,” Soderfelt said, “and it’s really important to get a job because I really want to earn more money along the way.”
Highfill added, “I like being with my friends again this summer … We learned about getting jobs and making more money.”
But their focus on earning extra dollars on the job site paled in comparison to their excitement for gaining real-world experience in their aspiring fields, like zookeeping for Highfill, who is passionate about animals.
“That was my daydream come true, because zookeepers are responsible for making sure that the animals in the zoo are happy and healthy,” Highfill said.
Soderfelt added, “I want to be more educated with educators because they … have more input on teaching kids how to talk or write, speak; all those are good for eligibilities.”
The two students were among nine participants in this year’s program, which offered everything from job search activities and work readiness exercises to networking and pre-employment transition training.
Brittany Steinkirchner, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for DRS, worked closely with Highfill and Soderfelt, along with the other students, throughout the week and said she was glad to see her pupils thrive in the environment.
“Our students, typically transition-age students with disabilities, tend to have a lower employment rate when they graduate high school,” Steinkirchner said, “so we’re hoping to provide them with some services and information about what they can do and what their options are.
“They’ve seemed to have a blast and have been enjoying all the activities that we’ve done. It’s also been nice to see some of these students outside of the classroom because this is a different environment, so I’ve gotten to know them on a different level.”
More information about DRS’s BEST camp, hosted in partnership with the University of Oklahoma’s National Center for Disability Education and Training, can be found at oklahoma.gov/okdrs.html.