Goodwill Aids Special Needs Training

September 8, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — This fall marks the beginning of the ninth year in which Porter Hills Retirement Communities has hosted a nurse aide program conducted in partnership with the Kent Intermediate School District (KISD) and Goodwill Industries.

Nearly a decade ago, administrators within KISD realized that they were not able at that time to serve special-needs students with a desire to enter the health-care field.

Goodwill had long been involved with KISD through its Workforce Investment Act program, which focused on special education students between the ages of 14 and 21, and through Goodwill’s transition program for special education students nearing graduation and looking to enter the work force.

“We had been tossing ideas around with the Kent Career Technical Center, and they told us that they were not meeting the needs of special needs kids in this area,” explained Arv Anderson, Goodwill’s director of youth services.

“We thought that given more time, and some love and care and someone who believes they can do it, these kids could make their money doing this.

“Now we have girls — and guys, too — starting out at $11 an hour right out of high school — kids that probably had been told they weren’t going to make it in life.”

Goodwill facilitated the adaptation of the state’s 75-hour minimum nurse aide training model into a full school year, stretching the program into a 450-hour format split into daily 2½-hour sessions.

The extra time allows the special needs students to learn at their own pace, while fitting in time for extra class work such as first aid certification and employability skills. The program serves 24 students annually, split between morning and afternoon sessions.

At year’s end, Goodwill assists in the placement of the students, who usually receive state certification as a nurse aide through the course. According to Anderson, many students have been offered positions at Porter Hills.

“It’s set up like a high school class,” primary instructor Susan Kinney said. “But because we’re vocational training and we’re in a nursing home, they can take skills that they’ve learned in the classroom and turn it right around and use it on the residents.”

Goodwill helps people who face barriers to employment find gainful work through training and placement assistance, the organization’s primary mission.

At the high school level, such barriers may include both mental disabilities such as a learning disorder and physical disabilities such as hearing loss.

Goodwill reports that it intends to expand its certified nurse aide program into an adult offering as well. Currently, the high school program is its only training offering in the health sciences.

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