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Oak Ridge High School program gives students with special needs the chance work with businesses around town

The program gives students a chance to work with businesses around Oak Ridge to help them get work experience and transition easily into the workforce.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — A program at Oak Ridge High School hopes to help students with special needs turn their dreams into a reality. It gives them a chance to work with businesses around the area while still in school, giving them work experience before graduation.

Then, after they get their diploma, the Special Education Transition School to Work Program hopes they will more easily be able to find a job in the workforce. Since they graduate with work experience, employers may be more likely to new graduates.

"You know, you just never knew from one week to the next how things were going to go," said Sharon Dowdy, whose daughter was diagnosed with autism.

Her daughter, Bethany, now works at an assisted living community as an RA. She said she helps residents with any of their needs. They have a call button to page her, then she goes to their room and helps them.

"I am so excited to get my own place one day," she said. "Get four cats. I love cats, they're so cute."

Program leaders said that by the end of the school year, they helped 17 students get internships and 15 of them became paid employees at businesses around Oak Ridge.

"When we got the grant for the TSW program, we formalized it. We put a structure in place to talk to the students about what they want, and what they're interested in and use that as a foundation to help them get where they're going," said Shelby Cady, a program coordinator. "Everyone has the ability to work. Every single person does."

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