by Laura Tingo
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and the Washington state education system have a few things in common when it comes to youth, the outdoors, volunteerism and a solid work ethic. Recently, the two came together when a group of about eight students from the Puyallup School District’s training-transition Advance Program helped prepare for the USA’s 6th Annual Puget Sound Sporting Clays Shoot in Puyallup, WA, on October 23, 2014. The students volunteered to clean up the range at the Sumner Sportsmen’s Association, where the USA shoot was held, by picking up shell casings and performing various landscape maintenance tasks like edging, raking leaves and collecting firewood.
“They were awesome,” said Heather Tazelaar, USA Event Analyst who oversees the USA’s sporting clays tour. “These young adults worked really hard, and you could tell they took pride in their work and enjoyed being out there.”
Participating students, ranging from 18 – 21 years of age, benefit from the Advance Program by staying in school after achieving their high school diplomas to gain valuable experience in the working world through community volunteer projects. Each student lives with some level of developmental disability and must qualify for the program with a history of job experience. Launched in 2003, the program is completely optional and open to students until the age of 21.
Denita Caudill, a job coach who has been working with the kids for nine years, said preparing the range for the USA shoot marked the sixth year that students in the program have had the opportunity to volunteer with the Sumner Sportsmen’s Association.
“The program offers them a bridge to the community,” said Caudill. “I’ve been able to watch (the program) evolve and become what it is today. Our children grow in skills and confidence. It’s exciting to see it and see former students and their successes as young adults being good employees…knowing how we helped to build those skills that they now are relying on.”
Students that find success after the Advance Program often return to tell Caudill what the program meant to them in their professional journey. “One student referred to us as `his college,’” she said.
Donovan Noonan, a 19-year-old student in the Advance Program, said the program is good for building skills and that he enjoys the volunteer aspect.
“I hope to be a personal trainer, and now it’s up to seeing where these job experiences lead me,” Noonan said. “I can see myself continuing to volunteer in places like food banks, churches and with animal care.”
John Anderson has served the Advance Program as Work Crew Leader for nine years, organizing community work crews, assisting students with daily activities, providing oversight on-the-job, and fostering open communication between teachers, students and work site locations.
For him, it’s all about “…watching students grow in confidence to take on any task, seeing the quality and quantity of work improve…seeing the students graduate, get jobs and become a valuable member of society,” he said.
And as with Caudill, many students come back and check in with him. One student, following the volunteer experience at the Sumner Sportsmen’s Association, went on to be hired as a trap miner and range custodian.
Another, 20-year-old Bryce Quilici, said he likes “everything” about the program. His dream job is that of a firefighter or personal trainer. “I would like to help others reach their goals.”