Program Helps Transition Those with Disabilities to Workforc

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PHARR – A Rio Grande Valley woman in charge of a program to help students with intellectual disabilities is proud of its success.

The Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district calls the program Pathways Toward Independence.  

Veronica Quintana works at a house in Pharr helping students with autism, visual impairments, speech impairments or physical impairments.  She said it allows young people, ages 14 to 21, to get hands-on experience for life after school.

"They work on living skills. They work on cooking, how to make a bed, sort laundry… They also work on landscape design. They do carpentry here as well," she said.

Quintana said the Valley needs to provide more places like these for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities or IDD. She said these students need help making the transition.

"We as a district, we saw a need way back, 15 years ago when we saw that our students, age 18 to 21, that are special needs students were staying in high school for eight years,” she said. “The law says they could receive services up until the age of 21. So we saw that it was not age appropriate for them to remain there, and we also saw that we were not fully developing their skills.”

Quintana said the home has had some recent successes.

"We have one that we were able to connect to a business, Irma's Sweet Shop, and he's working there at the bakery. And, then our other student that graduated, he's working at the federal credit union," she added.

Stephanie Hetzel, the Hidalgo County IDD manager for Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, said she supports the idea of developing job skills with IDD children.

"Rather than being at school all day, they're actually going and learning daily living skills like how to make sandwiches, how to use the microwave, how to use a washer and dryer and that's what's really important for our individuals," she said.

Hetzel said in order for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to integrate into the community, they simply must have daily living skills.


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