8:32 a.m. PDT July 25, 2016
In art class, Cristian Flores likes to draw cars. No, correct that. He likes to draw one kind of car in particular — the Batmobile.
Flores, 18, is a student at the Oregon School for the Deaf. He is both deaf and legally blind, and, like many his age, is still exploring what he wants to do with his life.
“I’m still thinking about it,” he said through an interpreter. “I think about it a lot actually.”
While Flores takes classes such as math and writing through the Adult Transition Program, he also participates in the school’s Work Experience Program, which is a transition program for deaf youth ages 18-21 who have graduated from high school and are unsure about their future.
The nearly 30 students participate in college prep or life skills programs and work with vocational rehabilitation. They learn how to apply for jobs, interview, get housing and more.
Students often go on to take classes at Chemeketa Community College or one of the few deaf colleges in the country, or they pursue jobs.
Through the school’s partnership with Capitol Auto Group, Flores got a job doing janitorial work. In addition to taking out the garbage and other cleaning duties, he said he now does some detail work on the cars and cares for the flowers.
“There’s a whole variety of things to do,” he said.
He said he loves the people he works with as well, saying they are all really nice.
“He has so much potential,” said ATP Teacher Katie Heise. “He’s so sweet, a good worker … just, wow … an amazing kid.”
Heise said her favorite part of teaching is when she sees her students succeed.
Heise is hard-of-hearing herself. By teaching her students and showing them what other members of the deaf community are doing, she said their confidence grows.
“They say, ‘If he can do it, maybe I can do it too,’ ” she said.
“That’s really discouraging for the students.”
However, Heise said those assumptions are often incorrect. She said the students are known to be good workers. They do not get distracted and are fast workers.
“They want to get a job and do it. They want to prove they can,” she said.
To help address those concerns, one of the school’s program provides on-site job coaches for the students to guide them through training and interpret until the students are comfortable in the position.
She said it can be time consuming and that businesses need to be patient and willing to teach, but it is worth it.
She spoke of how proud she and the school are of Flores, as is Capital Auto Group. Flores plans to continue at the school while he navigates his future.
Heise said the programs would like to collaborate with all types of organizations in the community, particularly dealing with housing, employment and volunteering opportunities.
“I always tell my students to believe,” she said. “They always say, ‘I can’t … I’m deaf.’ And I just say, ‘You have wings, you just need to learn how to fly with them.'”
Businesses and organizations interested in partnering with the school’s programs can email Katie Heise at Katie.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 503-378-3825.