Challenge Workforce Solutions does just what its name suggests, it takes on the challenge of finding working solutions for local individuals who have barriers to employment. Many of these solutions are found through partnerships with local organizations, and local schools. Mike Barry is the outgoing business outreach coordinator for Challenge, and the man who helped create a beneficial relationship between Trumansburg Elementary and Challenge.
There is already a relationship between Challenge and the Newfield Central School District, which Barry mentioned to Jeannie Wiggins, the principal of Trumansburg Elementary School.
“I told her that I had an individual that might be interested in being a teacher’s aide,” Barry said.
That individual is a man named Peter W., a young man who wants to become a teacher, but has found barriers due to a diagnosed disability. After Barry reached out to Wiggins, Peter was brought in for an interview and filled out an application. Now Peter works as a full-time employee of the Trumansburg Central School District (TCSD) as a teacher’s aide in several different classrooms.
“His long-term goal is to teach,” Barry said. “He has his associates degree and wanted to dip his toe in the water and see what happened.”
It’s clear to see that Peter loves his job by the way he interacts with the students in his classrooms. During story time Peter helps keep the kids quiet and attentive. But, outside during recess he matches the energy of the kids, running and playing while being mindful of safety and fun. Before, Peter worked as a dishwasher, a job that he said didn’t make him happy. But the happiness he brings to work now is infectious. The teachers and students trust him. During the Halloween parade, one of Peter’s students didn’t want to walk through the halls until Peter offered to walk with him, holding his hand. It’s a story that everyone who works with Peter loves to tell.
“The schools make sense because they have a lot of students with disabilities now, and so it makes sense to have staff with disabilities as well to show that work is a normal part of daily life,” Barry said, “and you can pretty much do anything you want to do.”
A willingness to be involved and be flexible is a necessary trait for employers to have a successful relationship with Challenge, Barry said. Trumansburg Elementary has been all that and more.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for my staff and our students to have adults with disabilities or barriers to work just in our environment,” said Wiggins. “The kids love Peter. It’s really fun to see how they interact with him.”
Wiggins said the school would like to tap into Peter’s other strengths and maybe incorporate him into the music classes. In the future, Wiggins said the school would be more than willing to work with Challenge to find more employees, but it would depend on the strengths of the candidates and the needs of the school.
“I think it’s just the beginning, I’m hoping, of a lot of other opportunities for Challenge and Trumansburg to work together,” Wiggins said.
But these opportunities have already been expanded. Several other individuals from Challenge work with the school once a week to finish maintenance jobs that the current school staff can’t handle alone. Pulling weeds, laying down mulch, and washing door handles are just some of the necessary jobs around the school that Challenge individuals have taken care of.
“Here we have a group of people who want to work, we have a ton of things we need help with, so that was really kind of an unexpected bonus,” Wiggins said.
She hopes that more opportunities can be found in the high school and middle school to work with Challenge again.