Organization hosts

Emily Dalnodar

Disability Services wanted its students to bridge the gap between academia and the work place. The Office of Special Learning Opportunities looked to branch out to students with disabilities.
Together they formed Disability Services Access to Work Through Service in October from a three-year grant through the University. Normally, the group provides students with special needs opportunities to get work and volunteer experience on an individual basis.
But Saturday it did things a bit differently.
Through an additional grant of $600 from the University’s Community Building Initiative, the organization hosted a group volunteer event. University students and staff painted the Little People Day Care, part of the Pillsbury Crisis Network.
The day-care center works with parents and children from crisis families — those in financial, emotional or health-related trouble. Staff members furnish housing, education, employment resources and personal development to these people.
“A lot of families come from run-down apartments with gray or dingy, cracked walls,” said Lyra Peterson, coordinator of Pillsbury Crisis Nursery. “You don’t know how much bright paint and sunshine means to these children.”
Saturday’s grant money provided breakfast, lunch, transportation and other special needs for the crew of about a dozen. The Pillsbury Neighborhood Crisis Center, in turn, donated the painting supplies.
Not only did the walls get a new coat of paint, but some got elaborate murals. The reading nook, a cubby hole tucked in the corner of the play room, received an especially sunny mural.
“This is the place they come to if they’ve been good and want to read a book, so we want it to be bright and sunny,” said Wendy Harbour, a University graduate student. She planned to paint trees, rainbows and bugs in the reading alcove.
When the three-year grant expires, program coordinators hope other University offices will continue their mission. The program also educates University professors and agencies who deal with employment-seeking students on how to handle special requests.
Hidden questions arise when students with disabilities apply for work, said Carol Hill, a University Disability Services special educator. Students often wonder when they have to disclose disabilities to an employer or how to request extra assistance, she said.
The combined tasks of helping students branch out into the work force and educating those that help them is the overall purpose of the group. But providing community service at the same time is definitely an added bonus, Hill said.