by Howard Blas, National Ramah Tikvah Network Director

Thanks to a special partnership with Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, several Eagle River businesses are helping provide meaningful job training and work experiences for members of Atzmayim. Participants in this vocational program, serving young adults ages 18-22, come to breakfast each day dressed for work. They then head out to their jobs in our local community at Eagle River Roasters, Trigs grocery store and Walgreens pharmacy.  

In past years, Atzmayim participants have also worked at a local children’s museum, toy store and resort. Some members of the program work at Camp Ramah. Charlie currently works in the kitchen and does dining room set up between breakfast and lunch.  Andre, a graduate of Atzmayim, is a full summer salaried employee in the woodworking and arts departments.  He proudly points out Adirondack chairs he has helped build, various things he has sewn, and hand washing signs he has made.

At Eagle River Roasters, Praveena works independent of a job coach.  She starts her day by tidying up the outdoor garden dining area. She then sweeps the floor of the roasting room, places labels on coffee bags and organizes shelves in the café gift shop.  Owner Daniel Beihoff, who has a nephew with autism, is pleased with Praveena’s work and with the long-standing relationship with Camp Ramah.  “We and our customers get a lot out of it.”  He and members of his team have come out to camp for meals and to see plays, his coffee is served in the dining hall and a special Ramah coffee blend is available for purchase at camp. “It takes a village. We are one big circle. We are all in this together and we all have something to offer!”

At Walgreen’s, Elijah and Nathan work with their Ramah job coaches as they sweep, stock, and perform the crucial job of “outdating.”  They carefully check the expiration date of such products as candy, batteries and medicine and pull from shelves if they are too close to the date.

Four participants—Sasha, Nathaniel, Lily and Molly—work at Trig’s grocery store where they keep the freezer section clean, make sure “facing” of products on shelves is done properly and keep the dining area clean.  Several participants assist cashiers with bagging groceries. Several proud participants were excited when they received tips from satisfied customers!

While learning a job skill is important, the “soft skills” of a job are equally important.  At the various job sites, employees learn to interact appropriately and professionally with customers. They learn to greet customers and answer questions, how to stay on task, sign in, use the break room, ask for assistance and dress professionally.   

It is our hope that the experience from these various work settings will help Atzmayim participants be “employment-ready” when they return home!