LOUISVILLE, Ky. — This class is all about teaching “independence.”

What You Need To Know

  • JCPS work transition program partners with nonprofit organizations

  • Students experience the responsibilities of having a part-time job

  • Students learn how to navigate Louisville bus routes with the aid of an instructor 

  • St. Vincent de Paul has been a worksite for over 3 years

A work transition program at Jefferson County Public Schools is giving students living with cognitive challenges the skills to live more independently. 

Every Tuesday and Thursday, St. Vincent de Paul offers a community food pantry. Hundreds of residents in the community rely on this pantry every month and the pantry relies on a staff of volunteers to run smoothly. 

Every Thursday Tony Pettiway and his cohorts in the JCPS Work Transition Program clock in for a two-hour shift, joining the staff of usual volunteers. 

“It’s pretty nice to help people,” Pettiway told Spectrum News 1. The 19-year-old is prepping plastic grocery bags to be filled with a variety of food items kept on shelves at the pantry. 

Students in this program are learning and practicing life-skills as they near the end of their high school career. Instructional assistant Anita Belle accompanies the students from school to the job site and back.

“We teach how to ride the TARC. We teach how to interact with people. We teach safe pedestrians skills so they can navigate the community,” Belle explains.

Student Brenden Bailey has another year left in the program. The 19-year-old says he’s having a lot of fun getting to know the other regular volunteers at the Open Hands Pantry. Ronniesha Thomas is also 19. “I just feel good, you know? Stacking up bags,” Thomas said. If Malcolm Scott’s smile says anything, he’s having a great experience too.

Belle says when her students begin the program, they may have limited experience with people outside the class setting.

“And just from start to finish, the growth is astronomical,” Belle said. “It is a very rewarding job and sometimes I think I’m learning as much from the students as they learn from us.”

Open Hands at St. Vincent de Paul has been a long-time partner with the JCPS program.