This story appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of In Focus.
For the last two years, Maggie, 18, has been volunteering at a nearby pet shelter, work befitting her love of animals.
While on the clock, she tends to general housekeeping needs, provides basic pet care and helps out wherever else she might be needed.
This isn’t just any volunteer job, though.
For Maggie, a student in the Secondary Program who has cortical/cerebral visual impairment and communicates both verbally and with the aid of an iPad, working at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) is a critical part of building her future. In a way that is uniquely Perkins, Maggie’s volunteer work is used to prepare her— and similarly her peers— for life after school.
“Through transitional programming, students gain competence; they become self-assured. They learn independent living skills and how they can be productive and maximize their potential,” says Denise Fitzgerald, director of transition services. “We’re not just preparing them to leave school. We want to send them off on an adventure they helped create for themselves.”
Every individual destination is different, too — informed by both the student’s needs and their own wishes, outlined in “vision statements” they revisit and update periodically.
Johnny, for instance, is a former student who now operates a hot dog cart at Pawtucket Red Sox games, a path he and his parents forged together.
Iris, meanwhile, works at a tea shop in Great Barrington at the Cadmus Lifeshare Community, an association that supports independent living for people with disabilities.
And Colby is pursuing his musical passions with a pair of performance residencies at a nearby hospital and senior living community.
Indeed, no matter the student and no matter their needs, there is ample opportunity to pursue the right track for life after Perkins.
Some students aim to go off to college and while at Perkins visit different campuses, learn how to navigate disability service offices and procure books and other accessible learning materials. Still others with more medically complex needs might become involved with programs that give them the chance to engage with their community recreationally in ways that match their interests.
Regardless of the destination, the goal is to ensure the work done on campus supports every individual student’s aspirations while preparing them for adult life and equipping them with the skills they need to pursue both their vocational and recreational passions.
That much is clear back at the MSPCA, where Maggie volunteers. She worked for years with staff in the Lower School and Secondary Program to bolster her educational curriculum with a specialized transitional focus.
“Working at Perkins over the years, particularly in the cafe, learning her routes around campus to get there, that really helped prime her for an off-campus position,” says Matt Carey, her job coach. “She loves to work and she loves to help people and animals.”
As for where Maggie’s headed after she graduates, she’s still thinking about it, as she finds her personal passions while developing new skills. Wherever it is, though, she’ll be more than ready for it.