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Transition Fair helps students prepare for a life of fulfillment after graduation

10/08/2015 5:50 AM |

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In October 2012, Anthony Mammina of Wading River met what his mother, Jennifer, describes as his “match made in heaven.”

No, the “match” wasn’t romantic, as it might sound. Instead, it was the result of Anthony, then 17, meeting Barbara McNamara, a Long Island Advocacy employee who set him up with services designed to help students with developmental disabilities prepare for the transition from school to a post-education life.

Ms. McNamara and Anthony, now 20, met at the annual Transition Fair at Riverhead High School — an event designed to introduce students and their families to organizations like Long Island Advocacy.

“My husband and I were walking around [the fair] and Anthony comes over and goes, ‘Ma, you have to come with me. You have to talk to this lady. I’m not of age!’ and we’re thinking, ‘Who is he talking to?’ ” Ms. Mammina joked. “It was the best thing ever that we came to, and he did it all on his own.”

Now in its fourth year, the Transition Fair, scheduled for Oct. 21, will host 28 agencies and organizations dedicated to assisting students and their parents from across the East End.

Elva Beyer, a transition coordinator at Riverhead High School, said she got the idea for the fair after attending a similar event at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket.

“One of the problems we have is out here on the East End is there are not as many services,” she said, adding that East End schools have fewer than 10 local agencies to draw from, compared with the more than three dozen in western Suffolk. “Really, it’s important that the families start to know what’s available to them and how they can access the ones up island,” she added.

Ms. Beyer said that, for the first time, this year’s event is open to families of students in all grades. Previously, only high school students and their families could attend.

“It’s a long, winding road and it really starts with showing up for one of those fairs — the earlier the better,” said Michaela Koeberl, mother of 19-year-old Riverhead High School student Kerri Koeberl. The duo has attended every transition fair held at the school so far. The “long, winding road” she’s referring to is the process each family must go through in order to determine if their child qualifies for independent support services after graduation.

Services include, but are not limited to, a job coach who helps with the interview process, writing resumes and finding jobs and support staff to help with shopping, banking and other important tasks, Ms. Mammina said.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTOAnthony Mammina with students in after school care (from left) Eunique Trent, 10, Sophia Romeo,9, and Ava Cravotta, 9,  making decorations for the bulletin board at Kiddie Academy in Wading River Tuesday afternoon.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Anthony Mammina with students in after school care (from left) Eunique Trent, 10, Sophia Romeo,9, and Ava Cravotta, 9, making decorations for the bulletin board at Kiddie Academy in Wading River Tuesday afternoon.

Ms. Beyer and Ms. Koeberl explained that the process includes making phone calls, attending meetings that can last up to four hours, applying for Medicaid and Social Security, being assigned a Medicaid service coordinator to determine the child’s needs and decide how to support that person after graduation, another meeting to determine what jobs and services the child qualifies for, documenting this for the state and more.

“The process requires one word — patience!” Ms. Koeberl said.

But both mothers agreed the seemingly endless process is worth it to see their children thriving in the workplace.

Anthony currently works part-time at J. Crew at Tanger Outlets Mall and twice a week at Kiddie Academy in Wading River. At Kiddie Academy, Anthony said, he helps the kids with their homework and makes sure they’re paying attention, which he does with the assistance of his job coach, Charlie.

Hiring someone with special needs, like Anthony, is new for Kiddie Academy, but owner Michelle Boccia said it’s something she’s happy to do.

“[Anthony] came by and he’s lovely and the director and I just fell in love with him and said we want to find a place for him,” she said. “He brings a really lovely spirit, a beautiful spirit, to the school … His way is very nurturing.”

Anthony is paid for his work at both jobs. But Kerri, also works two jobs arranged by the high school, is not. Her mother said she “works there to learn and have a good time.”

RIVERHEAD SCHOOLS COURTESY PHOTORiverhead High School student Kerri Koeberl (right) with her mother Michaela at the Transition Fair in 2014 speaking with one of the agency representatives who participated.

RIVERHEAD SCHOOLS COURTESY PHOTO Riverhead High School student Kerri Koeberl (right) with her mother Michaela at the Transition Fair in 2014 speaking with one of the agency representatives who participated.

Kerri currently works on the recycling program at the high school, which entails placing recycling bins around the building, recycling cans and bottles, sorting the recyclables and taking them to Stop & Shop.

She also works at Goodale Farms in Riverhead on Tuesday and Thursday mornings through a partnership the school district established last spring with owner Hal Goodale. There, among other tasks, she cleans eggs, packages cheese and feeds the animals.

“For me, it was just trying to give back some to these kids,” Mr. Goodale said. “We have some things we can do here and it gives them a sense of pride to be doing stuff.”

He said that he’s seen the students in the high school’s Basic Life Skills class grow since they started working at the farm.

“Actually, for most of them … in the beginning they were all very shy, kind of withdrawn,” he said. “Now they look forward to coming here and they talk about it and they’re very excited to be here doing things.”

Kerri lit up when the farm was mentioned, saying, “It’s just fantastic. I love [Mr. Goodale] and he loves me.”

While Kerri is currently working and still in school, this hasn’t stopped her mother from preparing for her future. That is why she will attend the Transition Fair for the fourth time.

“The biggest thing is that these students need the experience out there and there are some managers that are really willing — it sounds like Kiddie Academy is really open to it, Home Depot has been great, Goodale Farms — but there are some businesses that are not always supportive of the mission, so that can be disappointing,” said Lisa Lindsay, job developer at Riverhead High School. “However, I think it’s just a matter of educating them more.”

The annual Transition Fair will take place Wednesday, Oct. 21, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Riverhead High School cafeteria. Admission is free.

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Photo Caption: Riverhead High School student Kerri Koeberl feeds the goats at Goodale Farms in Aquebogue Tuesday morning as part of the “Basic Life Skills” program (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch). 

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