Thursday, September 18, 2003
Two pieces of bread, a knife and two jars -- one full of peanut butter and the other with jelly. To most, it's the obvious makings for a sandwich, but for others, it can be an unsolvable puzzle.
That's why a group of six recent graduates from Steamboat Springs High School who aren't quite ready for life on their own have been meeting every morning at 8 a.m. for a day of life skill training in a four-room mock apartment. The program, called Stepping Stones, has been meeting since Aug. 25 in the Steamboat Springs School District building in a classroom behind the Seventh Street Playhouse.
The goal of Stepping Stones is to help the developmentally disabled make a smooth transition from high school to independent living.
They meet for breakfast at 8 a.m. After eating, they practice reading with the daily newspaper. The rest of the day unfolds with chores and Life Centered Career Education where they learn everything from money management to how to do laundry.
The room is set up with all the furniture of a real apartment. Students practice changing the sheets and preparing meals. They learn to ride the city bus for field trips and learn how to interview for jobs.
Every Wednesday, the group goes out for a social activity -- dinner and a movie, bowling or date night.
"Whatever typical teenagers do," said Paula Lotz, severe needs teacher. "We want them to have a social life along with everything else. These are the things we take for granted."
Jon Allee is 21 years old. He was born with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects his muscle control and he uses a wheelchair.
Beyond the physical handicap, however, Allee's eyes snap with light from a sharp mind. He is good with computers and, over the past year, paraprofessional Dana Perry said, the shy guy who kept his head down and barely spoke at all has started to open up and everyone discovered Allee has a great sense of humor.
At 21, Allee is just starting to take the first steps toward an independent life. Though he graduated from Steamboat Springs High School more than three years ago, Jon Allee is still on the waiting list for a room in a Horizons group home.
Because of the wait between Horizons and high school, Allee is part of a disabled population that is in danger of falling through the cracks.
To keep that from happening, Allee has stayed in high school. The Stepping Stones program gives Steamboat residents such as Allee opportunities to learn and grow as they wait for their place in the Horizons program.
"Our goal is to help these students achieve semi-independent living where they can have homes and jobs," Lotz said. "We want to help them achieve whatever their dream is."
For Allee, he discovered that he is really good with computers after years of playing video games. This semester, Allee enrolled in a computer science class at Colorado Mountain College.
Allee has a job at Johnny B. Good's Diner where he makes fliers on the computer and takes mail to the post office and performs other tasks.
"He really is a computer whiz," Johnny B. Good's owner Mike Diemer said. "He's an awesome kid. Unfortunately, his brain far outworks his body." Allee works at the diner one day a week and always gets a milkshake with his paycheck.
"I love vanilla," Allee said.
"Actually, I think I could pay him in vanilla milkshakes and he would be happy," Diemer said.
This will be Allee's only year in Stepping Stones. He is scheduled to move to a Horizons group home as soon as a wheelchair accessible spot is available.
Note: A version of this article ("One Step at a Time") appeared in the Steamboat Pilot on Aug. 24.