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Bethel program offers students a chance to help people with disabilities

Author: Brian Saxton
STAFF WRITER

BETHEL -- Even when Elizabeth Shea was in seventh grade, she knew she wanted to be a social worker. "When I was growing up, my mother and father were foster parents to many foster children from around Connecticut," Shea said Tuesday. "At one time we had about 15 children in our home. I suppose part of that made me feel I also wanted to help other people."
So when Shea, now 23 and living in Bethel, graduated from Immaculate High School in Danbury in 2002 and went to Western Connecticut State University, she decided to study social work and become a qualified social worker.

Thanks to a program offered by the Bethel-based nonprofit agency Ability Beyond Disability, and the Hord Foundation in Danbury, Shea ended up with the best of both worlds.
While she studied at WestConn full time, she spent about 30 hours a week with the agency, gaining practical experience assisting people with disabilities.

"This program really opened my eyes," said Shea, who graduated from WestConn in May. "I found there was a lot of room for me to grow in it. Now that I've graduated, I'd like to stay with the agency."

Shea is currently working as a life skills instructor at one of the agency's group homes in Brookfield.

The program, which has just launched its latest summer recruiting drive, offers jobs to local high school and college students to help them earn money, learn new skills or explore potential career paths.

"We are helping young people to pursue careers that will not only be personally rewarding but will have a positive impact on society," said Thomas Fanning, the agency's president and CEO.
The agency, which serves about 800 people with disabilities in Connecticut and New York, reports that it has mounting requests for its residential, vocational, therapeutic, counseling, recreational and social services.

Included in the jobs currently being filled are life skills instructors, community integration coaches, and drivers.

"We have a host of round-the-clock jobs that can be filled in full-time or part-time shifts," said Maren Milliard, the agency's recruiter. "Many (students) stay after seeing how rewarding it is to help our consumers live independently."

The Hord Foundation, which works with the agency to promote careers in the health care field, nominated one student for the program this summer who begins her training next week.
Danbury resident Ebony Robinson, 20, is a third-year business administration student at Hampton University in Virginia.

"I wanted to do something this summer working hands-on with people," Robinson said. "I think this will be an opportunity to learn some life skills and gain a deeper appreciation of other people's problems."


Copyright, 2007, The News-Times (Danbury, CT)

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