In 2013, Alex Harding moved to the US from Sierra Leone, by himself, with only a $100 bill in his pocket.
Alex was young, but full of curiosity and a desire to learn and grow in the US job market. Still, as a person with low vision, Alex was at a disadvantage. As his vision changed, it became a struggle to show employers that he could work. In 2016, he signed up for the LightHouse’s Employment Immersion Program, and today he manages the facility of one of the web’s most popular skateboarding brands, Braille Skateboarding.
This is his story.
Braille Skateboarding is a tenant of LightHouse for the Blind at the Sirkin Center in San Leandro. We established a rental agreement with Braille Skateboarding because of their commitment to employ blind people like Alex.
If you’re blind, have low vision or have just experienced a change in vision and you want to gain the skills and confidence to jump back into the working world, we have a new four-week program just for you. To sign up, email Angela Denise Davis at email@example.com or contact your local Department of Rehabilitation counselor and ask to be enrolled.
It’s been a lively week at LightHouse headquarters with our three-week Summer Youth Employment Series (YES) underway. The 10th and 11th floors have been warm with the chatter of blind and visually impaired youth attending four classes a day including orientation & mobility, technology, living skills and job readiness trainings.
Many of the students at YES Academy are getting their first introductions to life skills like using a white cane, cooking, doing laundry, interviewing for jobs and volunteering. But it isn’t all work and no play. They also explored the city of San Francisco, including a ghost tour of Chinatown and a scavenger hunt at Fisherman’s Wharf.
This week they’re headed to camp and kayak in Tomales Bay, and then they’re off to Enchanted Hills Camp to spend a few days breathing the fresh air and learning the fundamentals of woodworking with blind woodworker George Wurtzel. The final week, a select group will attend the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Orlando, Florida. Here, students will meet thousands of blind role models from across the country, network with the National Association of Blind Students, peruse the aisles of the exhibition hall, participate in a nation-wide accessible job-fair and attend informative seminars.
“When we picked up the students at the airport not a single one of them was using a cane,” says Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump when we asked him about the most gratifying aspect of leading the program. “Now many of them feel confident to use their canes. It’s an important landmark for them to be comfortable with themselves and be able to identify as blind to allow the public to understand their needs.”
Romesha Laird is one of the YES students who started off the week having never used a cane before. She’s quickly taken to the mobility training and has found it an incredibly useful tool as she goes through this busy week of fun and self discovery.
“I’m just learning to use a cane,” she says. “I used to trip a lot and the cane makes me feel more confident. After this week, I feel a lot more motivated to use my cane when I’m walking around.”
Romesha is a high school student from San Bernardino, and when she’s not learning to making quick biscuits in the teaching kitchen or learning skills that will help her toward her goal of attending a four year college, she’s an avid cheerleader.
This week she discovered a mentor in YES Academy Counselor Danielle Fernandez.
“I really look up to Danielle,” she says. “She taught me a lot and showed me around. She also has the same condition as me, so we relate and understand each other.”
Romesha has already made up her mind that she’ll be headed back to YES next year.
“I am going to come back next year to learn more and get more experience and visit everyone at the LightHouse,” she says smiling.
Here are a few photos of Romesha practicing mobility in downtown San Francisco and volunteering to braille business cards in the MAD Lab.
Stay posted for more YES Academy updates in the coming weeks!
Providing Tools and Resources to Live a Secure and Fulfilled Life
“Employers don’t like problems, they like solutions. We allow people to develop their own solutions; we give them the options, and coach them into finding their own solutions.”
– Kate Williams, Director, Employment Services
After gaining skills in mobility, technology, and daily life, the final metric of success for a working-age individual who is blind or who has low vision may be ensuring a solid paycheck at the end of the month. Although monetary gain is important, we have learned that it is frequently not the most compelling reason individuals want to secure employment!
Rather, they cite the desire to acquire a sense of “belonging” and “contributing” as the motivating factors, closely followed by a desire to gain confidence, self-esteem and self-reliance. Unlike many employment programs, we pay close attention to these factors and integrate that awareness into each facet of our program. Our approach to supporting blind and visually impaired individuals on their path to securing employment is customized to each person we work with. As job seekers, we may share similar challenges on our journey; however, our stories and needs are vastly different. This premise is reflected in the design of our award-winning Employment Immersion Program.
Our Unique Approach to Employment Immersion
Our team is dedicated to providing a thorough assessment of the needs of each individual as they enter the program. Employment Specialists guide students through complex topics such as creating a dynamic resume, writing compelling cover letters, preparing for interviews, disclosing their disability and requesting accommodations. Students work individually to master these skills while they build a network of connections and develop transferable skills.
The Employment Immersion Team augments these one-on-one learning experiences with group activities including highly specialized workshops, expert guest speakers, meetings with employers and mock interviews with local companies. We work tirelessly with our students during their job search. We meet as a team on a weekly basis to review their status and work collaboratively to assist students in discovering job opportunities in today’s competitive job market.
This thoughtful and supportive model has resulted in a consistent placement rate exceeding forty percent. We welcome your inquiries! Our primary goal is to support job seekers realize their value in the workplace.