On a recent Tuesday, Kimi, 19, a student of the Deafblind Program at Perkins School for the Blind, delivered flowers to staff and residents at a nearby retirement home.
She was greeted with a big smile and hello from the receptionist. Pressing a button on a switch-activated voice output communication device that sat on her flower cart, Kimi responded with a hello of her own.
“Good afternoon,” she said. “I’m here to deliver flowers.”
The receptionist thanked her and placed the flowers proudly at the front of her desk. Kimi started down the hall to make the rest of her deliveries.
At this point, the two are quite friendly. After all, Kimi is here every Tuesday through the Work Activities Program at Perkins, which helps students with multi-sensory impairments and additional disabilities build functional skills relating to vocation, social interaction and more.
Such work is critical, says lead vocational teacher Christa Gicklhorn, as it prepares students like Kimi to become active and engaged members of their communities after graduating.
“We have nearly 20 community partners who work with us, and we look at every student’s strengths and interests to find opportunities that are a match,” she says. “We’re really looking at setting them up for life after school, so every step needs to be meaningful.”
And the available activities are different for every student, depending on their individual abilities, wants, needs, interests and preferences.
Some on a more traditional vocational track might do paid work at Russo’s, a nearby grocery store, packaging produce and arranging it on the sales floor. Others might do volunteer work at places like Cradles to Crayons, packing art supplies for students in need across Massachusetts. And for others still, the goal is to provide a path to self determination and community involvement.
Kimi is in the latter group.
As a “Sunshine Volunteer,” every week she chooses her favorite flowers, cuts their stems and arranges them in vases. She waters them and then organizes each delivery onto a cart. A few hours later, she heads over to the retirement home and makes her rounds, along the way exchanging hellos using either the voice output communication device on her cart, sign language or her own voice—like many at Perkins, Kimi expresses herself in a number of ways, a methodology known as ‘Total Communication.’
“Kimi loves flowers, she loves social interaction and wants to be around other people,” adds Gicklhorn. “So this works for her, and it will be an on-going opportunity we can help set up for her after school, if she and her family want to pursue that.”
On that more recent Tuesday, though, the clearest example of why these activities are so important wasn’t off on the horizon of Kimi’s future. It was readily apparent during the delivery.
After her routes were complete that day, Kimi ran into her friend Bernie, a longtime staff member of the home. The two played a game with a large inflatable exercise ball, passing it back and forth to one another while sharing some laughs.
When it was time to go back to school, Kimi pressed a button on her voice output communication device and said, “Thank you.” Bernie responded, “I’ll see you soon.” Using her own voice, Kimi said, “Bye,” signing it, too, for good measure.
Her spirits were high after a job well done and some time with a friend. She started back down the hall from where she came, her flower cart empty but ready for next week, to be filled all over again.