Empower U Empowers Young Adults

By Jaci Cooper | Director of Projects and Planning

EmpowerU is a special needs transition program overseen by the Kent Intermediate School District (KISD) for adults ages 18-26 who have already gone through high school. Their mission statement is: “In partnership with our community, [EmpowerU] provides specialized instruction and opportunities specific to employment and independent living skills necessary for young adults to live a purposeful and productive life.” With 350+ students throughout Kent County, this is the second largest transitional program in the state.

This focus on experiential learning and functional life, job and community skills gives adults with special needs necessary pre-employment and job training skills to eventually get a job. In need of a classroom, EmpowerU’s administration contacted Kent District Library. KDL’s Service and Meeting Center, which houses the library’s operational and administrative functions, has a meeting room which is conducive to such a need. This classroom, not situated in a school environment, provides a great opportunity for students to get fully accustomed to professional environments among working adults.

Steve Ramsay, a teacher at the KDL classroom site, has been teaching for 35 years; this year marks his 8th year in this program. He shares more about the program and partnership with KDL:

Why is EmpowerU so valuable to the community?
It is important to have diversity within a community – our students add so much to the community. People can learn from them and better appreciate a wide range of differences. Businesses definitely benefit from our working relationships. Not only do they help to provide work opportunities, but they learn and build valuable relationships as well.

What partners does EmpowerU work with?
Nursing homes are a key partner – those relationships are so appreciated. The residents get enrichment and interaction with our students while they perform different job duties.

The students have done a wide variety of things: volunteering at Kids Food Basket, participating in
Special Olympics, ACT (Artists Creating Together), choir and more. Current job partners include Meijer, Tru Hotel, Goodwill and the Store House. Past job partners include Family Fare, StoryPoint and Extremis. Job sites are arranged with businesses in close proximity to the classrooms.

What do you like best about your job?
I like that there is so much variety involved with this job. I get to work with the students in a more hands-on environment. I also get to work with businesses and manage those partnerships as well.

Steve couldn’t do the essential and impactful work he does without the help from his teaching
assistants, Sheryl Mankel and Tiffany Hein. Sheryl adds, "It is very gratifying to see the changes in
students. You might not see their progress day to day, but by the end of the year, you can see how
much they’ve improved! If we have done our job correctly, they are more independent, more reliable, better citizens, and contributors to our community."

KDL is eager to further develop this partnership with future volunteer and employment opportunities for the students.

To learn more, visit kentisd.org/center-programs/empower-u.