Eighteen-year-old Severna Park resident Natalie Recor, a junior at Severna Park High School (SPHS), has a variety of interests — horseback riding, unified bocce ball, swimming and spending time cuddling with her French bulldog, Cooper. Her favorite SPHS class is Walking Wellness, but the best part is getting to volunteer outside of the classroom at Park Books in Severna Park, where she spends an hour and a half each week restocking and light cleaning.
Natalie is in SPHS's Enclave program for students with disabilities. A transition specialist works with students ages 14 and older to assist them as they begin moving into adulthood, supporting Enclave training and employment in the community.
“The Enclave program involves students who follow our alternative curriculum pathway,” said Bob Mosier, chief communications officer for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “It enables them to get out of the classroom and into a workplace environment.”
He said the program benefits students in the classroom and beyond, and it helps prepare them for the workplace they will enter as adults.
“It's a 'win-win' really,” said Kami Barth, Natalie's mother. “Volunteering at Park Books has been a positive experience for Natalie.
“She gains experience and she loves meeting new people. It really helps her self-esteem. Natalie wants to be helpful and do something — she wants to work."
Park Books owner Melody Wukitch said three high school students volunteer in the store, and a senior at The Harbour School in Annapolis has a paid position as part of a job training transition.
Wukitch, a former kindergarten through grade 12 reading specialist, praised the program and said it has been positive for her and her store. She has the enthusiastic desire to encourage and help the students. Families appreciate that she’s a teacher, she said.
“They know they'll get some additional instruction and support. It's in our nature,” she said with a smile.
Park Books additionally supports the community through LitCoLab, a learning lab with certified teachers and others who help those who struggle with literacy. They also help with math, touch typing and more for neurotypical individuals and for those with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other uniquely abled individuals.
A job coach accompanies the volunteer students. Sometimes, an occupational therapist will be at the store to work with Natalie on her fine motor skills and provide tasks that meet her needs.
Natalie especially enjoys shelving and straightening items, particularly the "warmies" — stuffed animals that can be heated in the microwave for comfort and warmth. Her favorite stuffed animal? "A hippo," she quickly responded.
Asked what she would like to do for a permanent job, Natalie answered, "work in a hospital." Kami laughed and said her daughter enjoys watching “The Good Doctor” and “Chicago Med.”
“She likes to help people,” Kami said.
Martin Gorman, the owner of Ledo Pizza in Severna Park, has contacted the school's program coordinator and is looking forward to welcoming students to his restaurant.
“I have a son with special needs,” Gorman said. “Even though he is not old enough to work yet, I fully understand the importance of being able to provide a job, a purpose and create normalcy for these kids.”
Gorman said students could help with counter duties, assist in simple prep work and put together orders.
He's excited about the possibilities of helping students and says it creates goodwill in the community. In fact, Gorman reached out to the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce to encourage other local businesses to open their doors to uniquely abled individuals and this school program.
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