HOPE’s helpers

Before the doors open at Pizza Hut, 1729 E., Third St., a group of special needs students from HOPE’s Community Employment Services program, are hard at work building their skills and self confidence, by working and cleaning the restaurant with huge smiles on their faces.

The students are part of HOPE’s Community Employment Services program, where students, ages 15 to 21 work for free at a local business to build their skills. This is HOPE’s third year hosting the program and it has gained momentum over the years. In the past it was difficult to find local businesses willing to participate in the program, but this summer the manager of Pizza Hut, Shawn Shaffer, took a chance on the students and gave them a volunteer community employment opportunity.

“You can see it on their faces, that they enjoy doing it,” Shaffer said.

The students, from Williamsport, Jersey Shore, Montoursville and Liberty, arrived an hour before the restaurant opened on July 29 morning for their sixth week participating in the program. As they entered the restaurant they gathered together to receive instructions from their Community Employment Services summer instructors, Christopher Kish, Briana Wingrove and Jeff Pelly. Pelly provides personal one-on-one assistance for a student this summer and is an autistic support teacher at Curtain Intermediate School. The students then got to work wiping down the tables and chairs and making sure that everything was clean for when the customers came in.

It was clear that the students enjoy the work they were doing and are proud of their new and improved skills.

“It has gotten them out into the workforce and gives them an opportunity to be out in the public, and show that they have a lot of abilities,” Kish said. “It is all about giving them a chance.”

Throughout the six weeks working at Pizza Hut, the students have been able to build strong relationships and have learned a lot from the staff. The skills that the students learn by working at the restaurant will help in all aspects of life.

“It is really people helping people, which is really nice because a lot of times I think that in people’s daily lives we become so busy that we forget that is important to help people,” Kish said. “That is what this program is about, helping these kids grow farther in their academic life, but also in their life in general.”

The program works on a transition planning system and a value system. The skills that the students learn through the program will prepare them for jobs that could include custodial work, working at a grocery store or anything else they set their mind to. They also will be able to put their experience at Pizza Hut on the resumes.

“All these kids are more than capable of going out in the world and making a positive impact,” Kish said.