New camp gives disabled teens real-time work experience

When students of the Arc of St. Charles came ready to work Monday at Frank’s Supermarket in Des Allemands, Manager Scott Guidry was glad to see them.

“It’s good for them to see that and it’s knowledge for them … even if they stand behind the cash register and see how it works,” Guidry said.

Frank’s wants to be a part of anything that helps these teens, he said.

Learning how the workplace works is valuable experience, especially for teens who are only asking for a chance to work alongside everyone else.

They’re participating in Arc’s first Upstart Camp, which is designed to help teens with disabilities learn about different job opportunities by visiting businesses and getting some hands-on experience.

“I am so grateful that the Arc of St. Charles is providing this wonderful opportunity to my sons,” said Laurie Guichard of Norco, whose twin sons are in the program. “This Upstart Camp is the perfect way for Matthew and Joseph to learn about career opportunities that are available to them in this parish, despite their disability.”

The concept isn’t new to Guidry.

Frank’s employed two or three disabled students earlier this year who stocked shelves. They worked as a team and had chaperones who guided them.

“I wish they would come back,” he said of them coming to work three days a week. “It was so nice to have them here.”That is exactly what the Arc hopes businesses will feel about employing these disabled teens, particularly when the agency’s goal is to break the image that they can only handle “sheltered work.”

Arc spokeswoman Kelsey Matthews said the camp, being held through July 29, involves teens touring businesses and government offices. It’s being funded with industry contributions and a grant.

Executive Director Victoria Bryant said, “The Arc of St. Charles is thankful for the funds that have given these teenagers a chance to discover and explore career opportunities in St. Charles Parish and how they relate to their interests. This Upstart Camp is a brilliant example of the unsheltered community we are trying to achieve.”

On the week of July 18 – 22, the tours include Frank’s, the Basketry and First American Bank, both in Luling, Tothetee Hair Salon in Destrehan, and the Council Chamber in Hahnville.

In the week of July 25 – 29, the tours are at the St. Charles Parish Library east branch in Destrehan, Parish Sheriff’s Office in Luling, Parish Department of Parks and Recreation, the St. Charles Parish Animal Shelter in Luling and Parish EOC in Hahnville. Also, St. Charles Community Services in Destrehan will present a jobs readiness program at the Edwards Dufresne Community Center.

According to Matthews, “We have a theme at Arc of St. Charles – we want an unsheltered environment for all our individuals so we’ve been pushing employment. We want them in the community in jobs like everyone else.”

The camp also will include group discussions on employment for people with disabilities and breaking barriers.

For Matthew Guichard, the barriers are already gone.

“We want to work because it will make us feel important while earning money,” Guichard said. “We are excited to come to this camp to learn about what we want to do when we grow up.”


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