New opportunities for children with special needs

Several local businesses received a presentation Friday evening from Ennis 12th grade student Justin Hubbard.  The presentation explained the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) Program that gives students with special needs and individuals facing barriers an opportunity to move into gainful employment.

The philosophy behind the school to work program, explained Hubbard, is to help students achieve their goals after they finish school by preparing them for employment. The program also helps students to transition from school into adult life while keeping them aware of career opportunities.  It is designed for students with special needs ranging from slight learning disabilities to more severe conditions.

The WOTC program, offered through the Statewide Workforce Programs and Oversight Bureau of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, gives private for-profit employers up to $9,000 in tax credits for participating in the program. Employers in the private sector are encouraged to hire job seekers from qualified target groups such as recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), disabled or unemployed veterans, disconnected youth or recipients of vocational rehabilitation.

Hubbard himself is a participant in the program and spent the summer mowing lawns and fixing sprinklers at the Rainbow Valley Lodge under the supervision of Ed Williams. While he’s excited about being on track to receive a high school diploma this spring, Hubbard admits he struggles with higher-level mathematics. His goal is to go into Fish and Game, and he says his experience with the work to school program has helped him work toward that goal by giving him the confidence to succeed.

“I learned that you can have special needs and still do what normal people do,” he said following the presentation, visibly relieved to have made it through without incident. He admitted that he was nervous beforehand, having put in a lot of work and practice for the presentation.

“All I have to do is try hard, work hard, keep at it and I can accept it and do it,” he said with a matter of fact smile.

Program coordinator Lori Ruffier watched Hubbard’s presentation with a satisfied smile as well. “I’ve seen this program get going in other communities and it really does benefit the students to have this time to transition from school to work,” she said.

As for why local businesses should participate in the school to work program, aside from the obvious tax credits, Justin Hubbard’s answer comes easily.

“It just gives the special needs kids a chance to get out and actually experience what the world is like,” he said.

For more information on the WOTC program visit http://wsd.dli.mt.gov/wotc/wotc.asp or contact Ennis Public Schools Special Education teacher Dan Olkowski.

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