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Learning in L.I.F.E.
Program preps teens for work
Life WEB 1
Zach Adams works on the production floor of Siemens as part of his Project L.I.F.E. internship. The program prepares students for working. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Melody Tilenis soon will have a full-time job.

While that may not seem unique, the way she was able to secure it has been a little different.

Tilenis is one of 21 Forsyth County special needs students who have completed Project L.I.F.E., a joint program of the school system and the Siemens facility in south Forsyth.

L.I.F.E. is short for Learning Independence for Future Employment.

Siemens has been involved in the program for the past four years, allowing students to work as interns through its various contact companies that handle tasks such as food preparation, cleaning and the mail room.

Some students perform jobs directly through Siemens, such as working on the production floor and pushing around a snack chart.

Tilenis works primarily in data entry. Come November, she’ll be hired in a full-time administrative assistant role.

Her teacher, Helen Lane, said she’s not surprised Tilenis soon will become a full Siemens employee.

“She has her own computer and cubicle,” Lane said. “She does a lot of scanning documents and working with documents, a lot of archiving.”

Tilenis has also shown a strong work ethic, Lane said, even wanting to work when Project L.I.F.E. was not going on.

“We’re a school-based program, so we operate on the school calendar,” Lane said. “But Melody wanted to come work even when we were off, during spring break and all through the summer.”

Tilenis said she wanted to do so for several reasons.

“I wanted to see if I could do full work days for a whole week,” she said. “Also, I didn’t really want to stay at home being bored.”

Lane said Tilenis’ attitude is reflective of all the Project L.I.F.E. students.

“All of the 21 students who have completed this program have gone on to hold jobs,” she said. “That’s a big part of this.

“We build into them a strong work ethic so they don’t want to sit at home. They realize what they can have in life if they work hard.”

Two of Tilenis’ fellow L.I.F.E. peers were also recently hired by Siemens.

Zach Adams came on in August and Blake Keeton in September.

Keeton works as a materials technician on Siemens’ production line floor, delivering parts to various areas.

Like Tilenis, he said he didn’t want to just stay home.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing if I didn’t get to work here,” he said.

All three of the students also worked with the Georgia Department of Labor’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program.

Miranda Franklin, a rehabilitation employment specialist with the department, said the program provides a wide range of services to adults with disabilities and to businesses wishing to hire them, all at no cost.

With Project L.I.F.E. students, she said, that primarily includes on-the-job training.

“We work with them to make sure they learn to adhere to the same employee standards as everyone else,” Franklin said. “They do follow the same policies and procedures of the company as all the other employees.”

Franklin said any business interested in hiring special needs adults can consult the Vocational Rehabilitation Program.

“We can come out and do an evaluation of the jobs they offer to see if anything would be a good fit, and help them train their respective employees,” Franklin said.

Susan Darlington, special needs transition coordinator for Forsyth County Schools, wishes more businesses would use the state service and possibly work with Project L.I.F.E.

“As we continue to grow as a school system, we have more and more need for this program,” she said. “Right now, we have a waiting list for students wanting to take part in this and there’s just not enough jobs.

“We would love to grow this program.”

She said businesses often worry about liability, but that’s not really an issue with the program.

“As long as they are students in Project L.I.F.E., they are students just working in an off-site classroom location, so the school system still has all responsibility for them,” she explained.

Nor is there any responsibility on the company’s behalf to hire the student interns.

“That’s a decision that a company can make if they want, but there’s absolutely no obligation to hire any of the students,” she said.

Regardless of whether they get hired, Project L.I.F.E. can have a huge impact on the lives of students.

“Not only do they develop those soft skills, like showing up on time and dressing appropriately, but you really see them become more and more independent as they go through,” Lane said.

“And we’re giving them marketable skills they can use no matter where they go in the future.”

Tilenis agreed.

“At first, [working full time] was a lot more responsibility than school,” she said. “But I’ve grown spiritually, grown physically and mentally probably too.”