Summer jobs have been giving students an opportunity to gain valuable life experiences since the word “teenager” was coined. The Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) launched its summer work program in 1994 to give blind and visually impaired students the same kind of opportunities.
Brian Mullins, a KSB alumnus and teacher and the leader of KSB’s work program, said he has been passionate about the program since the beginning.
“Our vision at KSB is to empower students who are blind and visually impaired to command their future, and this work program does exactly that,” Mullins said.
The KSB work program is not only for students who attend the residential school in Louisville, but also for blind and visually impaired students throughout the state. During the two-week program, the students stay in dormitories and spend their days working at the Kentucky Kingdom amusement park, the Louisville Zoo or the American Printing House for the Blind on the KSB campus. Each student is assigned a job and is overseen by supervisors at their job site and KSB.
This year, 18 students are participating in the program. Eleven students work at Kentucky Kingdom, six students at the Louisville Zoo, and one at the American Printing House for the Blind.
Xavier Morgan, a participant and KSB student, said he was eager to work at Kentucky Kingdom this summer.
“I have been coming here since I was 7, and I knew I wanted Kentucky Kingdom to be my first job,” he said.
Students apply to the program each year and undergo an interview process to be accepted. KSB students are assisted with resume-building and interview skills to prepare for their jobs. Each morning before students venture to their job sites, they have a one-hour morning career class where they discuss the challenges and victories of their workdays.
Under the guidance of experienced mentors, the students engage in various tasks, from gift shop sales and habitat maintenance at the Louisville Zoo, to customer service and park operations at Kentucky Kingdom. This valuable work experience not only enhances their practical skills, but also boosts their confidence and self-esteem.
Cameron Jones, another participant in the program, said he was worried about his first days on the job, but was relieved after spending time with his supportive supervisors at Kentucky Kingdom and the work program leaders.
The summer work program exposes students to challenges they might not otherwise face.
“A workplace is full of moving parts and even though I have a smaller role, it still is as important as the big jobs,” said Taeveon Burks, a work program participant at the Louisville Zoo.
After a student has completed one summer work program at Kentucky Kingdom or the Louisville Zoo, they can apply to work at the American Printing House for the Blind for their placement the next year. Due to the increased responsibility and skill level, it is necessary that the students gain work experience prior to working at American Printing House for the Blind.
“The hope for students working at American Printing House for the Blind through the summer work program is that the students are able to turn it into a full-time career,” said Mullins.
The American Printing House for the Blind started in the basement of Kentucky School for the Blind in 1858 and now is a lucrative career for many students who attended the school.
The Louisville Zoo and Kentucky Kingdom work closely with KSB to ensure success for all youth, and the program continues to grow each year.
“All young people, not just those with disabilities, need guidance in their first job. The KSB work program offers guidance to visually impaired and blind in ways that regular workplaces cannot,” said Mullins.