It’s a cool Thursday morning, and after a brief bus ride from Louisa County High School (LCHS) to the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center, Louisa County High School senior Nathan Brooks is ready to work.
Brooks’ job is to make sure everything operates smoothly during JABA’s Senior Citizen Program. To some, the tasks may seem simple: Brooks is in charge of rolling silverware, serving water, laying out lunch items, and placing cups at tables.
But to Brooks and his handful of classmates working alongside him, the job is the opportunity of a lifetime. And to his teachers and the bus drivers who make it happen, it’s the result of a partnership that couldn’t run more smoothly.
That’s because Brooks is a member of the high school’s special education program, and the bus rides are free of charge, courtesy of JAUNT and its JAUNT Friends Scholarship Program.
As part of the program, JAUNT drivers transport weekly up to 12 students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in LCHS’s Adaptive Academic and Adult Transition Program.
The free tickets fill a huge need for special education teachers Lori Craig, Susan Morency, and Donna Oesterheld, since coordinating private transportation is often too difficult. And the tickets fill perhaps an even greater need for her students.
“For a variety of reasons, some individuals will not be able to obtain driver’s licenses, and for them, becoming employed or being involved in the community is a challenge,” Oesterheld said. “Before they leave high school, it is important to provide them with experiences that can build healthy and strong social habits for using public transportation. Louisa County High School is so very grateful for these scholarships.”
Along with developing traditional workplace skills, students are also able to earn academic honors. Thanks to JAUNT’s scholarship program and JABA’s volunteer program, students have the chance to accumulate volunteer hours. Typically, students in LCHS’s adapted curriculum program earn fewer trophies, certificates and awards in sports or clubs. But they can earn Green and Gold Cards, which are awarded to students who hit benchmarks of 40 hours or more of community service.
And as for the support provided by JAUNT’s drivers, Oesterheld said she couldn’t be more pleased.
“Every single driver on every single trip addresses the students by name, offers help if needed, walks to each individual to check seatbelts and to help if needed, and supports the teachers in every way to promote safe transportation and social skills,” Oesterheld said.
At an end of the school year ceremony, JAUNT will hand out awards to students who meet their individual goals logging hours of volunteer service at the Betty J. Queen Intergenerational Center.
And at the ceremony, all the students will have their names called. They’ll walk across the school’s auditorium stage. And they’ll receive their awards and a handshake from high school principal Lee Downey.
They will be, quite simply, just like everyone else. It’s something that the LCHS team and JAUNT wouldn’t have any other way.
Photo and story contributed by Louisa County Public Schools