Jessica Mathews /

A new program is empowering young adults with unique abilities through real-world job training.

The Livingston Educational Service Agency or LESA developed a new STEP program for young adults with unique abilities that is specifically related to their transition to employment.

STEP stands for “Skills For Transition to Employment + Program” and is a transition-to-work program for neuro-diverse individuals aged 18 to 26.

Livingston ESA Director of Adult Transition Services Alana Anderson says the program gives young adults an opportunity to learn jobs and skills that make them marketable but also transferrable skills that are needed in the community. She says the “plus” component encompasses things that lead to more independent adult living such as financial literacy, being able to care for your own needs, speaking up for yourself when needed, and understanding your rights as being a young adult with a disability.

Anderson told WHMI a lot of students with neuro-diversity or unique learning abilities aren’t on a diploma track in high school – which is a huge barrier for young adults transitioning to the work world where there’s discriminatory language about requiring a diploma when it's really not a requirement of the job.

The program is for students with disabilities who have an Individualized Education Program or IEP and are on a certificate of completion – meaning they left their local high school after completing their coursework there. Students must be at least 18-years-old, have that IEP and eligibility to receive special education services, reside in Livingston County, and have a desire to work. The program is a free service offered through Livingston ESA for those meeting the criteria.

Anderson said they opened their doors on July 17th and currently have 30 students. The STEP facility is in the old Gold’s Gym in the plaza located at the corner of Latson Road and Grand River in Howell, across from Mejer.

Anderson said it’s been renovated inside and students are really connecting to the location as it is more fitting for where they are in their lives and more like a community college with their own campus. She says it has an environment conducive to support them which she described as “corporate trendy”. She said it doesn’t look like a school or classroom because they want it to be about the young adult population and more fitting for them so they can focus on meeting their goals.

Anderson commented further “It’s not a school but a program, not a class but a course, and not a student but a learner” – adding it’s about treating them more as adults and peers versus high school and teacher and helping them learn what they need to be successful.

Anderson says the program is designed for students after the transition from school who still need to acquire skills that lead to a more independent life such as navigation in the community and employment. She says that’s also where the STEP program is really geared to supporting them with “soft skills” when it comes to things that could potentially “trip them up” in the workplace.

Those include conversations in the workplace, what’s appropriate to talk about and what’s not, the appropriate time to talk, and appropriate relationship boundaries. That also involves non-verbal cues and picking up on things like when talking too long or having inappropriate conversations. Anderson said their learners need clear and concrete instruction and modeling work through things with trial and error that they can put into practice after receiving guidance and instruction.

Other aspects of the program involve financial literacy, technology skills, health and wellness, and appropriate relationships but always with a focus on competitive and integrated employment in the community.

Anderson noted a lot of their young adults are more susceptible or vulnerable to people taking advantage of them – whether financially or sexually. She said they make sure they’re gaining that education and knowledge about how to speak up for themselves and how to be aware of when their rights are possibly being violated.

Students have a 12-month calendar, and can take courses Monday through Thursday but always have Friday off – which allows them to pick up additional hours if they have paid employment. The program is individualized but Anderson said it’s really intended for a learner who needs one or two years of additional services for employment readiness and is not intended to be much longer than that.

When they look at students to recommend for the program, she says they look at where they are in their own learning and make sure they’re really ready to “step in” and “step out” of the program. Anderson said that could be one year for one learner, less than that for another, or slightly more for someone else.

Anderson stressed they’re very thankful for all of their community business partners that have opened their doors to offer work-based learning opportunities for their young adults – adding it’s a benefit to both LESA and their business partners as a lot of students will seek employment through those work-based learning experiences and they’re always looking for more.

A grand opening event is scheduled for next Monday, September 18th from 4 to 6pm at the STEP facility at 951 S. Latson Road.

Anderson said more families have also been inquiring about tours as they learn more about the program. She said they’re happy to share the new program with the community and showcase the power of their young adult population.

More information is available in the attached brochure and flyer.