In a classroom at the Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest, a class of young job applicants sat poised with their fingers on brand-new iPads, playing a special game of Jeopardy.
“During an interview, employers are looking for candidates who: Can communicate well? Can remember their birthday? Or dress stunningly?” asked a quiz show host on a TV monitor.
“Communicate well,” said a Tameeka Crawford, as five fellow students and three teachers cheered.
Crawford and the other participants were doing something far more serious than just playing a game. They were taking part in a JVS program called Career Camp, winding up an intensive two-week session teaching job search and vocational skills. The camp took place July 30-Aug. 10 at the JVS facilities in East Orange.
The campers ranged in age from 14 to 21, and all of them have been diagnosed as having cognitive or mobility impairments.
Another cohort of students who face autism spectrum disorders is also receiving vocational training at JVS, which is a beneficary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Both groups are using iPads as a new tool in their job-hunting process.
The Career Camp is made possible by a $35,000 grant from the Kessler Foundation, which underwrites the costs for participants. Another $7,826 grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation was used to purchase 10 iPads and subsidize the staff for the training program.
The Reeve Foundation was established by his wife, Dana, in memory of the late actor, who died in 2004 after suffering severe spinal cord damage in a horseback riding accident. Reeve spent months in rehabilitation at the Kessler Institute in West Orange after his debilitating injury. Dana Reeve died in 2006 of lung cancer.
Lauren Klein, who manages the camp as coordinator of rehabilitation services, said its results are promising.
“The students may be able to go off to two- or four-year colleges. They may go off to a vocational training program. They may go off to look for a job in the community, and we will provide a job coach to assist them,” she told NJ Jewish News.
After leading the game of Jeopardy!, head instructor Patti Fitzgibbon showed students applications on their iPads that would help them find job listings, sharpen job skills, and use public transportation.
The campers rotated through JVS work stations that included a simulated grocery store, a clothing shop, a medical office, and a business office.
They also took two field trips during the program, one to a supermarket, where they worked with cashiers, stocked shelves, and bagged groceries. A second excursion was to the Laurelwood Arboretum in Wayne, where they learned planting, mulching, weeding, and other gardening activities.
After the camp sessions are over, Fitzgibbon and her teaching assistants, Lisa Simmons and Carla Thomas, will present evaluations of each student to the State Division of Vocational and Rehabilitation Services and to their individual school districts.
“The division looks at the students’ skills, aptitudes, and vocational abilities and tries to find matches for job placement,” said Klein.
Fitzgibbon, whose own skills include vocational rehabilitation counseling and teaching special education, has created individualized programs for each camper.
As the campers finished surfing for specific jobs and potential employers, they reflected on their dreams for the future.
“I hope to further my education in a culinary school,” said Marcus Wright, who just graduated from high school. “I want to be a chef.”
“I want to use the iPad to help me find a job as a pharmacy technician,” said Julian Santiago.
Crawford said she was interested in working in retail sales.
“I am looking for a clothing line, and I think the iPad will help me find a job,” she said.