Photo caption: Sam Smetko stacks some dishes and passes them along to a coworker March 22 at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital.
La Grange – Working as a dishwasher at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital through a high school vocational studies course has made a noticeable difference in Beth Smetko’s son Sam.
“He’s a little more confident,” Smetko said. “He’s very proud of himself. I think it’s been wonderful.”
Sam Smetko, a special education student at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, has been hired for a part-time position in the hospital’s kitchen, doing much the same work he has done while enrolled in the high school’s vocational studies program.
The LaGrange Park resident is the first hire the hospital has made through this incarnation of the program.
“He really works hard,” said Debbie Regnier, registered dietician and clinical nutrition manager at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. “He comes in and finds things to do by himself even after he finishes what we’ve told him to do.”
The hospital has not had the opportunity to hire a student through the Lyons Township High School program before, mostly because of timing, Regnier said. When students have been available, positions have not been open. But this time, the timing worked out.
“You can see the drive in Sam,” said Deniece Schott, the hospital’s director of food and nutrition. “He wants to do more.”
Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital has worked with Lyons Township for more than 15 years on its vocational studies program, said Cara Brown, vocational and transition coordinator at Lyons Township. It’s the last of the original companies to partner with the high school on the program, run by the school’s special education department.
The program Sam Smetko, 19, works through is known as the Transition Program, offered to students between the ages of 18 and 22 and designed to help special education students develop the skills they need to be hired for a job once they leave the school. Another program, designed for younger students, starts teaching those work skills earlier.
“We’re kind of that stepping stone between the high school and the adult world, with the ultimate goal of having our students find work or placement in the community prior to exiting,” Brown said.
Students with the high school come to the hospital with a work coach and work in food and nutrition services, Schott said. The department collects and cleans dishes from patient rooms all over the hospital.
Students learn how to run the department’s dish machine and get lessons in food safety. Five students come to food and nutrition each week and work a shift.
Staff always enjoys the days the Lyons Township students come to work, Schott said.
“The staff takes on a lot of the mentoring of these students,” she said.
And students like Sam appreciate their effort, his mother said. When Sam comes home from work, he likes to talk about the people at his job. In the past, he’s had some difficulty with communication.
“I think it’s great that there are businesses that work with Lyons Township to allow students to come and train,” Smetko said. “I was surprised and really happy when they asked Sam to apply.”
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