Preparing students for a bright future

Published 1:08 pm Monday, March 12, 2012

Cindy Vinson, a Shelby County Special Services Center job coach, invited Calera chamber members to participate in a program that prepares special-needs students to transition from high school into the workforce. (Contributed)

By MOLLIE BROWN / Community Columnist

British novelist Phyllis Bottome wrote, “There are two ways of meeting difficulties: you alter the difficulties or you alter the way you meet them.”

As an advocate for students with special needs, Cindy Vinson works as a job coach at the Shelby County Special Services Center. She spoke to Calera chamber members in their February meeting about a program they can get involved with that will help alter the lives of these students.

“The students we work with will never go to college or a technical school,” Vinson said. “Some have high disabilities and some so low you would never know they have a disability, but somewhere down the line we find they can all do something in society.”

The program is specifically designed to help the student enter the workforce. Students participate in class assignments that teach responsibility, self-awareness and techniques for maintaining employment. The assignments develop personal independence, self-worth and career awareness.

Prior to going out into the workforce, students are coached on how to obtain work permits, fill out job applications and other work-related forms. Vinson is seeking businesses who will allow students to have a hands-on approach to what they have learned in the classroom.

“Students participating in training are accompanied to and from businesses by a school personnel member,” she said. “They are never left alone on the premises. Should a student get injured on the premises, they are covered by school insurance.”

The program is not designed to replace regular employees. The student is there to assist in order to broaden their classroom skills. Since the student is training, no monetary benefit is requested and businesses are under no obligation to hire the student.

Vinson said the training program provides huge benefits for the students. “The students learn good work ethics and teamwork. They learn how to build a resume. Every training outing is listed on their resume along with the task they performed,” she said.

Students have worked at places such as kennels, golf courses and grocery stores. Many businesses contract to host students for a particular task. Students recently helped the Birmingham Barons with their season tickets mail outs, and they assisted the Heart of Dixie Railroad with the Polar Express.

Businesses can assist in other ways such as participating in a mock interview workshop in which students are interviewed and evaluated for readiness in the workforce. For more information contact Vinson at 682-5875 or

Mollie Brown can be reached at