Vodec student consumer Charity at the Lakin Y.

It’s a facility that commands your attention, whether you’re entering the gleaming two-story incubator for wellness on foot or driving past it on West Kanesville Boulevard in downtown Council Bluffs.

The Charles E. Lakin YMCA, one of the largest in the United States at 78,000 square feet, is as impressive today as when it first opened in 2017. This semester, it’s also work headquarters for a group of Vodec student consumers.

They are part of Today’s Skills, Tomorrow’s Workforce, a Vodec program that provides students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities with the opportunity to do real work in a real work environment under the instruction and supervision of Vodec staff.

Vodec’s Council Bluffs Development Center launched the program last January with eight students and one work site – the YMCA Healthy Living Center across the street from Vodec’s Council Bluffs headquarters. It then expanded to the Lakin campus this fall.

Here’s how it works: students work at a local business several hours each day up to five days a week during the school year. They perform a variety of roles, depending on the needs of the business. At the Lakin Y, Charity, Andrew, Precious and other program participants are doing everything from helping out at the front desk to cleaning and sanitizing to serving as a greeter in ChildWatch – free, drop-in childcare for parents who want to work out or make use of the Y’s other services.

Throughout the year, the students rotate through each job so they can experience everything available at that work site.

The students are paid an hourly wage for all work completed.

Vodec staff reports on the progress of each student to their respective teacher/IEP (Independent Educational Programming) team. “We work with each participating business to ensure that students and Vodec staff are following all the safety rules and precautions,” said Mark Stromer, Vodec’s services operations director for Western Iowa.

Vodec’s job coaches are there to help the students succeed. “Not all students have the same learning style, so you have to be patient,” said Angel Brooks, a veteran job coach at Vodec. “You have to give them time to learn, and you have to take the time to listen to what they need. If you can do that, you’re increasing their opportunity for success.”

On the other side of the equation, the businesses involved in the program gain the experience of working with a diverse group of individuals, which can lead to future jobs for the students, said Jenny Salsbury, day services supervisor at Vodec.

At the end of the year, participating businesses can offer employment to students but aren’t obligated to do so. “In any case, the students gain valuable experience that can be noted on their resumes and/or employment applications,” Stromer said.

As the program continues to grow, Vodec will add additional businesses to serve as work sites.  If you’re a business interested in becoming a work site, email Stromer at mstromer@vodec.org. If you’re a school district interested in participating in the program, contact Vodec Services Development Director Daryn Richardson at drichardson@vodec.org.

Vodec student consumer Andrew disinfects health equipment in one of the Lakin Y’s workout rooms.

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