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The VS Connection Center teaches young adult basic living and employment skills.

The end of the school year included a celebration of the completion of the first year of one of the newest programs the Vinton-Shellsburg district offers its special needs students: The Connection Center.

This program helps special needs students who have recently graduated to find job experience and life-skills training in a school environment.

Teacher Rose Wilson spent 25 years in the special education department, focusing on behavioral issues. She is now the Connection Center teacher.

School officials observed that there were very few programs aimed at helping young intellectually-delayed adults make the adjustment from school life to community living and work.

“Before we started the Connections Center, our students who qualified for a program of this type were either bused to Cedar Rapids, or not served at all,” said Wilson.

This year, the Center – which is more like an apartment than a classroom, with a kitchen and bedroom and laundry areas – served three students. Next year, at least one more student will join Zach Farley, Shelby Arp and Danita Schiebel in the program.

“Most of the clients share the same goal areas: Housekeeping, grocery shopping, food prep and employability skills,” said Wilson.

The students’ daily routine included grocery shopping list-making on Monday, shopping on Tuesday, cleaning on Wednesday, bowling on Thursday, with Friday as a wrap-up time and recreation day. The students also worked several hours throughout the week at the various job sites.

“Zach helps to wash and paint and load steel parts,” said Wilson. “This has been a terrific opportunity for him. The men he works with have taken him in as family and he loves it.”

Several Ideal Industry employees joined Zach for the year-end lunch event. They presented him with a signed metal Ideal sign. Representatives from other participating employers also attended with Shelby and Danita.

At VGH, Danita cleaned workout machines, stocked supplies and disinfected the equipment the clients used. Rehab Director Stacey Hodges said Danita’s efforts allowed her staff to spend more time on patient care. She praised Danita’s work and her demeanor as well.

Shelby worked in a variety of jobs at the bowling alley, said Steve Berry. She cleaned tables and other areas and dusted the approaches.

Associate Julie Long works with the Connections Center participants and accompanied Shelby to Berry’s Lanes. She worked with Shelby for a while – until Shelby told her to sit down; she could handle it on her own.

The program connects young adults like Zach, Shelby and Danita with employers who have jobs they can perform. The classroom is in the lower level of the Washington High School building.

Zach, from Center Point, spent most of his working hours at Ideal Industries, helping in a variety of jobs at in the shop. Shelby, from Garrison, worked at Berry’s Lanes, Total Image, Movies –n- More, Friends of the Shelter, Inc., and Essential Health Massage. Danita, from Vinton, worked for the Virginia Gay Hospital Rehab Dept.

Wilson said she organized the final luncheon as a way to say thank you to the employers who offered jobs to her students, as well as to raise awareness of the need for more career opportunities for young adults like Zach, Shelby and Danita.

The businesses do not pay the clients; it is a “learning arrangement,” explains Wilson.

“This is a win-win opportunity,” she said.

The staff works with the employers to make sure that each participant knows what his or her job duties are. The participants who are able work independently, although Wilson continues to stay in touch with the employers throughout the program.

Those who want to find out more about the program, and whether they may be able to offer employment training through the Connection Center may email Wilson at, or call her at 319-269-5543.

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Comments (2)

We had the opportunity to work with Donita at VSMS kitchen and she always did a wonderful job! Thanks for all your help Donita and have a great summer.

By: Becky Williams on June 4th 8:28pm
I would also like to menion that Danita worked with Lisa out at Curves and had a very good learning experience there with them.
By: Rose Wilson on June 5th 2:57pm

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