The students at Stepping Stones have caught the "independent bug," Stepping Stones transition teacher Paula Lotz said.
They come to class every day trying to learn as much as they can so they can move out of their parents' homes into their own apartments. Just like the rest of their peers between the ages of 18 and 21, the Stepping Stones students are eager to start their adult lives -- and that means the program is a success.
What: Second annual Bite of the 'Boat benefit for Stepping Stones Where: Steamboat Springs Community Center When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday Call: 871-6937
The goal of Stepping Stones is to help young people with development disabilities make a smooth transition from high school to independent living.
"We are learning how to clean. We are learning how to live on our own and learning how to move out of our parents' house," said Jamie Kaminski, 20, a Stepping Stones student.
The Stepping Stones program is part of Steamboat Springs High School, though the classroom is blocks away, Seventh and Aspen streets. The distance is purposeful.
Until last year, special-needs students who reached 18 walked in the graduation ceremony with the rest of their peers but had to return to the school at the end of the summer and continue attending classes until they were 21 and ready to enter Horizons.
Last year, for the first time, those students were able to leave the high school for the Stepping Stones transitional program.
"It was good to get them out of the high school," Stepping Stones paraprofessional Cammy Ross said. "(When they got to Horizons), all they had as far as life experience was what their moms gave them. They might not even know how to make a bed."
At 8 a.m. every morning, five recent SSHS graduates meet in the Stepping Stones classroom, which is designed to look like a four-room mock apartment, for life-skills training.
On Monday, they plan a menu for the week and go shopping. During the week, they do laundry, practice money management, clean and entertain. Once a week, students from the alternative school visit for breakfast. Stepping Stones students set the table, cook and serve.
Kaminski's specialty is pancakes, she said. The secret is "a lot of syrup and butter."
Most of the appliances, furniture and kitchen supplies in the apartment have been donated by members of the community.
On Wednesday nights, students from the high school show up to socialize. Last Wednesday, the group went ice skating together.
"Whatever typical teenagers do," Lotz said. "We want them to have a social life along with everything else. These are the things we take for granted."
Each of the students holds a job somewhere in Steamboat. Kaminski works at TIC as a filer. Courtney Vogel, 20, works at Pisa's bussing tables and in the Yampa Valley Medical Center laundry department.
They get paid by the hour like any other worker and manage their money.
"They are hard workers and very eager to learn a skill," Lotz said. "They want to be independent. They're growing up. In training these students (through giving them jobs), they will be contributing members of the Steamboat community."
Stepping Stones is funded through the Steamboat Springs School District and Routt County Human Services.
The program was given an $18,000 start-up grant from RCHS and $5,000 from the high school.
"This year, both have been cut," Lotz said. With grant funding reduced, the program instead is relying heavily on a fund-raiser called the Bite of the 'Boat, scheduled for this weekend.
At the fund-raiser, restaurants offer food in exchange for tickets that have been purchased at the door. Twenty restaurants are participating this year.
"The community has really stepped up to the plate for us as far as supporting what we do," Lotz said
The Bite of the 'Boat Fund-raiser made $2,200 last year.