TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - The Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter & Sanctuary has been known for various volunteer opportunities over the decades of its existence. From cleaning to adoption events, volunteers are a necessary and valued component of The Hermitage. One group of volunteers is especially hardworking and dedicated: high school students from the Tucson Unified School Districts’s (TUSD) ACT program and UCP of Southern AZ’s employment program - WorkAbility students who visit the shelter to learn job skills.
The Hermitage forged a partnership with the programs as a way to provide valuable skills for people with physical and intellectual disabilities; these partnerships are entering a fourth year, and going strong!
These two entities bring students into the shelter with a teacher/job coach who supervises and leads them through their tasks. The Hermitage has worked closely with the teachers/job coaches who are preparing high school kids for employment in creating curriculum that is easily broken down into smaller steps that each student could read, and master. By breaking complicated tasks down into simplified steps, students can practice many of the day-to-day skills needed in order to live independently and work in an employment setting. Often, students practice reading instructions, discussing the task steps, having coping strategies, completing work, and practicing teamwork.
“We have learned a nice variety of job skills while here at the Hermitage. We have learned how to do laundry, wash dishes, wash and sort aluminum cans, clean bathrooms, and many more tasks," said Kelly Watters, an Instructional Specialist with TUSD-ACT. "The jobs of the volunteers here is very important; they help take care of the kitties and we believe having the students [here] helps out the Hermitage a lot and we’ve been told that by the staff and fellow volunteers. We have learned a lot over the years and enjoy working with and communicating with fellow volunteers of the Hermitage. We really enjoy volunteering at the Hermitage.”
Because many of the students have physical and cognitive limitations, many tasks are adapted or the students learn how to accommodate their own needs while still completing the job. They gain valuable practice at work readiness and self-advocacy, as they can practice speaking up, asking questions, and checking in with their teacher/job coach through the day to ensure they are staying focused and to know when to move to the next task.
Kahnen, TUSD-ACT student, said, “I like helping out and socializing with the cats, the cats are my favorite part, and they need our help.”
Students from the UCP of Southern AZ’s employment services program, WorkAbility are adults who have an array of disabilities, are preparing for competitive and integrated employment. The program partners with the hermitage to provide a work-based learning experience that mimics “real work”. The WorkAbility Job Coaches work closely with Hermitage employees and the students, creating a mutual educational experience. Workability has also provided disability awareness training to the shelter’s staff and multiple businesses in Tucson.
“Thanks to the Hermitage Cat Shelter, Workability students ranging from 14 yrs and up, are learning work skills, gaining awareness of community projects, and experiencing what volunteerism looks like in an animal shelter environment. This exposure has had an important impact on the individuals with disabilities and their journey towards competitive and integrated employment opportunities. We are fortunate to have such a strong and vibrant partnership with the Hermitage Cat Shelter!” Vanessa Zuber, from Workability said.
TUSD-ACT students work at The Hermitage three times a week, as part of their in-class curriculum. Workability students work less often, about once a quarter.
For information about or the other outreach programs available, please contact Karen Baden, the Executive Director of The Hermitage, at firstname.lastname@example.org.