Students from the New York School for the Deaf (NYSD) have forged a partnership with Caritas of Port Chester, a community organization offering meals, groceries and more to qualified individuals living in and around the surrounding area. The project is a win-win, according to Caritas Coordinator of Services, Bill Cusano. The students, all of whom use American Sign Language, are learning vocational skills including food handling, measuring, inventory and record-keeping. They are also learning about customer service. They help the food pantry patrons select produce and as well as packaged goods, and they also serve meals.
Under the direction of NYSD teachers Maddy Kosson and Rudy Rodriguez, along with Cusano and a host of rotating volunteers, the students are developing vocational skills which are intended to give them a leg up as they continue on their career journeys. Employment skills are the foundation of all careers. Well-honed skills, no matter where they are acquired, can be transferred to most jobs.
On the day I visited, the NYSD students were learning how to follow directions. The task was to measure food, bag it and then label each bag. “The kids are great,” noted Teaching Assistant Patricia Noel-Rivera. “They just want to connect.” Cusano agreed. “It’s great for everyone – the students, volunteers and customers. Everyone feels connected. There is a feeling of community gathering.”
While all 12 students may not end up in the food service industry, they will all be required to follow directions and to be accountable for their work no matter what careers they choose. Their internship hours at Caritas may be applied towards the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential. The CDOS Commencement Credential certifies that students have mastered work readiness requirements necessary to be successful in entry level jobs. One of the requirements is participating in at least 216 hours of work-based learning and or career and technical education opportunities.
In addition to the Caritas/NYSD partnership in the community, the students will be extending the collaboration by providing fresh produce grown in their organic garden, located on the school’s property. Rodriguez and his students, with outside support, created a one-half acre vegetable garden. Some of the produce is sold to staff members but a portion is donated to Feeding Westchester, the area’s local food bank. Rodriguez plans to share some of the bounty with Caritas.
To learn more about Caritas of Port Chester check out their website at: www.caritasofportchester.org.