Spring is here! If you’re like me, you might be thinking about spring break, March Madness, and the Final Four. Plenty of you are also planning end of semester projects and trying to figure out what your summer is going to look like. This a great time to start thinking about some work experience. A summer job is not only a wonderful way to earn some extra money, but also a first step toward post-college employment. Research has linked things like summer work and high school job experiences to employment success for youth, including blind and low vision youth.
In my family everyone was expected to work after school, on the weekends, and during summer break. As a teenager growing up, my parents had the same expectation of me that they had for my sighted brother. So, when summer came around, I was motivated to find a job. Going to work was an opportunity to earn some cash, it was also an opportunity to get out of the house, explore, meet people, and learn.
My first job and beyond
In my sophomore year of high school my friends were talking about part-time jobs that they were looking forward to, yet I didn’t have an idea of what lie ahead for me. When I was 16 I was introduced to the employment preparation program for teens at the Orange County (CA) Braille Institute. I met with a job coach, Cora, to discuss my immediate and long-term career goals. She assessed my communication style, posture, and ability to connect with others and she helped me prepare for my first job. Cora told me that Carl’s Jr, a local fast-food chain, was hiring. She encouraged me to put in my application. Before long I had my first ever interview and shortly after that I was hired to be on the grills and fryers making burgers at a rapid pace for all to enjoy! Working fast food may not sound glamorous, but that first job gave me a weekly pay check and eventually opened doors to a variety of other opportunities.
I was able to use my Carl’s Jr. Job as a work reference when I applied for other seasonal and summer jobs. I listed my supervisor from Carl’s Jr. as a reference for future jobs. Another great summer job was when I volunteered at the local community center and that gave me an opportunity to expand my skills. I started out at the community center because I had food handling and food safety experience. They hired me to help set up for events and serve food. Volunteering gave me an “employment” experience as a DJ that I could list on other job applications, because I had worked as a DJ for some of the community center events.
The highlight of all my summer experiences came when I worked in an 8-week paid internship with the American Council of the Blind (ACB) in Washington DC. Internships are generally short term, but they offer some amazing opportunities to hone skills and make connections in fields you think you want as career areas. That summer I met with policy makers, attended meetings at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and attended the ACB national convention held that year in Louisville, Kentucky. It was an amazing experience!
How to get started
Spring’s the time to plan for your best summer yet! Here are some tips on where to begin.
Make a plan
Discuss with your family how you would like to be active this summer. Get a sense of whether your family has a vacation or other obligations scheduled and plan accordingly.
Assess yourself and your skills
Work with your high school guidance counselor, vision teacher, and your vocational rehabilitation counselor, to take some interest inventory surveys to discover what some of your strengths are and find areas where you can brush up.
Some of these assessment tools include:
Mix it up
Summer is about more than work. It’s also about having fun, connecting with people, exploring, and even learning a bit. So, in addition to summer work, there are lots of programs and services that provide recreation, leisure and work experience for teens and young adults who are blind or visually impaired. With some planning you may be able to attend more than one program during the summer.
Some examples of summer programs are:
- Summer residential and day camp programs
- Summer Transition & Work Experience Programs
- Science and STEM Academy programs
- Internship opportunities at home and in Washington DC
- National Conventions held by the leading blindness consumer organizations
- In person and virtual Mentoring programs
- College preparation programs.
Getting acquainted with your vocational rehabilitation counselor, local organizations serving youth and teens who are blind or visually impaired, as well as the blindness consumer groups are great ways to find out about resources. Applications and registration often begin as early as mid-February, so don’t delay!
More than a paycheck
Summer jobs whether paid, volunteer, or internships, all offer opportunities. Honestly, I was drawn to these programs so I could get out of the house and earn a paycheck. Looking back, what I’m most grateful for are all the skills I learned. From gaining more self-confidence and learning self-advocacy skills, to making lifelong friends, I’m thankful that I spent my summers exploring and expanding my employment opportunities.