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New St. Luke’s Program Gives Job Training to Students with Learning Disabilities
May 28, 2019

Wearing a lace dress with a pink sash, Jennifer Irani of Easton walked to the front of the conference room at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus with a wide smile across her face.

She was among 14 students recently honored for their participation in the first-ever Possibilities Program at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus. The program provides early job training through volunteerism for the students, who can face barriers to future employment.

As her father Xerxes Irani stood with his phone camera, St. Luke’s Anderson Campus president Ed Nawrocki congratulated Jennifer and handed her a certificate. Jennifer looked across the table-filled room and began reading her speech.

“My name is Jennifer and I am 17 years old. I live in Easton and like to play on the computer. When we started at St. Luke’s, I worked in the cafeteria learning how to clean. Now I’m in patient care and like helping people and meeting people. I also like when people tell me I have a beautiful smile.”

Jennifer is a student at Colonial Intermediate Unit (IU) 20, an educational agency that, among other services, provides special education to area students.

Since the fall, students have spent one morning a week under the guidance of IU coaches, helping in the cafeteria, patient care and environmental services. Their duties include wiping down computer stations, cleaning floors and chairs in break rooms, serving water and delivering newspapers to patients and preparing patient care folders.

“It helps us connect with our patients and visitors. The students are very warm, friendly and caring,” Nawrocki said of the program.


Presentation of certificates at Possibilities Program ceremony.

The idea for the Possibilities Program originated a year ago with Colonial Intermediate Unit staff. All the students, who were ages 15 to 17 when it began, are in Linda Moscaritolo’s life skills class at Wilson Area High School. They hail from the Pen Argyl, Northampton, Wilson, Easton and Nazareth school districts.

Moscaritolo said IU students are given job skills training, but her students were too young for that portion of the curriculum.

Still, she wanted to find a way to ease them into job training under the umbrella of volunteering, so it wouldn’t be such an abrupt transition.

“Our students need a lot of repetition,” she said. “It’s not like turn 18, get a job and be successful.”

Christina Williams, coordinator of nursing services at IU 20, came up with the idea of teaming up with St. Luke’s based on her experience as a former full-time employee and now per diem nurse for St. Luke’s. She said St. Luke’s has a “community culture” focused on giving back.

“I thought it would be an amazing opportunity for education and health care to come together,” she said.

A meeting was arranged with Nawrocki, who was immediately on board.

“When we heard about it, we jumped on it right away. We thought it would be a great program for the hospitals and the schools,” Nawrocki said. 

Possibilities students were brought into St. Luke’s under its extensive student volunteer program, which aims to expose students to careers in health care and lay the foundation for learning core values and expectations of the working world.

In 2018, more than 950 high school and college students volunteered a collective 46,000 hours in the network, said Georgina Winfield, network director of Volunteer Services.  “We feel it is very important to help the youth, to get them where they need to be when it comes to employment,” she said. “The hope is many will come back some day as employees.”

Carbon-Lehigh Intermediate Unit 21 has had a similar program for special education students at St. Luke’s University Hospital – Bethlehem called Project Search. Winfield said several of its students have since been hired as network employees.

Under the Possibilities Program, students spent three hours on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday volunteering at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus. They then got to eat lunch. Students also were required to take public transportation to the campus to gain the skills needed to get around on their own.

The program will continue until the end of the school year. But on May 10, St. Luke’s held a luncheon and ceremony to honor the students. The conference room was filled with students dressed in their finest, parents and relatives and St. Luke’s and IU 20 staff.

As part of the ceremony, students were called up one at a time to the front of the room where Nawrocki; Moscaritolo; Jenna Mooney, director of Human Resources at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus; and Dan Cullen, supervisor of special education for IU 20, were waiting to congratulate them.

"Your children are really inspiring,” Nawrocki told parents in the room.

Students all got a chance to give a speech, in which they talked about themselves and their experiences. For many, if not all, it was the first time talking in front of a large crowd.

As students spoke, photos flashed across the wall behind them, showing young teens in red polo shirts wiping down chairs and preparing folders. In one, Lamir Cobbs could be seen cleaning with a grin on his face that stretched from ear to ear.

“I like to play on my iPhone. In the fall, we started at St. Luke’s and I dust and clean chairs. I like the nice people and eating chicken nuggets in the cafeteria,” Lamir, who was dressed in a grey vest and tie, told the crowd.

Students and guests alike clapped and cheered as each speech was read. The pride the students felt in their accomplishments was contagious.

“When I walked through this door, I knew it would be my best day ever,” said Atiya Jackson, 16, of Easton, as she looked across the room.

“That’s my girl,” called out Peter Diaz of Pen Argyl, whose daughter Kylee, 15, is in the program.

Parents, likewise, were grateful to St. Luke’s for giving their children a chance. Lamont Cobbs said he’s definitely seen a change in Lamir. “He’s more responsible, more helpful around the house,” Cobbs said.

Xerxes Irani said Jennifer has become more excited about getting a job when she finishes school. “I think the program is great. It’s giving them opportunities, hands-on experience,” he said. “She has a drive to work after school.”