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Tammy Winkenwerder, Program Specialist for Transition, Texas Workforce Commission

Abstract: The Texas Workforce Commission’s Summer Earn and Learn (SEAL) Initiative provides work readiness skills training and work experiences for students who are blind and visually impaired. Employers who participated in SEAL also benefited by becoming aware of how a person with a disability can contribute to the production and goals of their business.

Keywords: Texas Workforce Commission, TWC, Vocational Rehabilitation, VR, employment, work readiness skills, training, work experience, SEAL program, work experience trainer, job skills trainer, advocacy

In 2017, the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program launched an initiative for students with disabilities called Summer Earn and  Learn (SEAL). SEAL is a partnership between the VR program and the 28 Local  Workforce Development Boards around the state of Texas. During SEAL, students with disabilities learn work readiness skills and obtain work experience through various summer job placements. Here are a couple of examples of students who are blind and/or visually impaired who benefited from their participation in SEAL as well as how SEAL benefited an employer.

Savannah

Savannah attended SEAL in summer 2019. She loved her summer job at True Value in Sinton, TX. She was there for 5 weeks. When she told her mother about her work day, she used the word “we” when talking about selling a lawnmower and weed eater to a customer. She felt like part of a team. Her job duties included sweeping, mopping, cleaning and stocking shelves and helping customers. She learned where products were in the store and was able to direct customers to find the products they needed. She reported that staff treated her well and she was thankful for getting the opportunity to participate in SEAL. She also learned how good it felt to earn a paycheck and she used the money to treat herself to clothes and breakfast!

Maycie

Maycie has participated in SEAL for the past three years. In 2017, she worked as an administrative assistant for United Way. Although she had a difficult first day at work trying to find her way to her work site, everything else went smoothly thanks to the help of a work experience trainer. She learned to advocate for herself, and she changed the staff’s perceptions of people who are blind. In order to show their appreciation of her work, they gave her a surprise going-away party when she left the program that summer. In the summer of 2018, Maycie worked for the food bank in Houston, TX. She greeted everyone at the front door and continued to ask for additional job duties. She also worked in their cafeteria and call center. In 2019, she worked for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). She greeted customers and cleaned equipment. At each job site where Maycie worked, the staff was amazed by her abilities. She gained various skills in these work experiences which contributed to her setting future goals of attending college and being a Business Enterprises of Texas (BET) manager.

 A young woman in business attire sits at a desk in an office setting.

Caption: Maycie at her desk as Administrative Assistant at United Way during her SEAL placement.

SEAL is not only a benefit to students with disabilities but to employers as well. The Golden Crescent Workforce Board placed three SEAL interns at the United Postal Service (UPS) Store and Rapid Printing in Victoria, TX. The UPS Store and Rapid Printing are two small businesses that share the same owner and are side by side in a location. The students split their time between the UPS store and Rapid Printing. They were also provided job skills trainers through a TWC provider, G.R.A.C.E (Getting students Ready for Advanced and competitive Careers through transition Employment training) Transition Education Services. This was the first time the UPS store and Rapid Printing hosted a work site for SEAL. Pete Munoz, the general manager for both locations, took the interns under his wing and provided mentorship and training to each. In addition to training on the customer-service related duties at the store, the interns received training on how to operate the in-house advertisement design software. The interns used this skill to design flyers, posters, and event tickets for an event called “Small Business Night at the Park.” Pete reported that the interns have been an excellent addition to the store and that, “the Summer Earn and Learn interns are willing to do anything that they can do to help.” SEAL has proven to be a life-changing program for students with disabilities and employers around the state. It has helped students gain skills needed for successful future employment and has helped employers see the benefit of giving people with disabilities a chance to contribute to the job market. If you would like to know more about the Summer Earn and Learn program, please contact your local Vocational Rehabilitation office and speak to a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor. Your local office can be found by clicking on this link: https://twc.texas.gov/offices/vr-general-services.html.