Doing laundry, grocery shopping, preparing meals, running a small business — these skills are all taught at the Transition Center in Alexandria, which teaches independent living skills to those with intellectual and cognitive disabilities.
The Transition Center, on 34th Avenue West, serves students ages 18-21 from various school districts, including Alexandria, Parkers Prairie, Long Prairie, Sauk Centre, Minnewaska and Osakis.
It was previously known as Transition Tech, but the name has changed to more fully encompass what the center offers, said Ellen Anderson, the center’s work experience coordinator.
“The program has been around for years and it has been awesome,” she said. “But we just have a different group of kids that need service that maybe haven’t gotten service before. We’re trying to open that door for all kids ages 18 to 21 and figure out how to fit three different (ability) groups into one program.”
One way the Transition Center teaches students is by partnering with businesses in the community and volunteering. Jennifer Seesz organizes and teaches this portion of the curriculum.
“We volunteer at five or six places in the community,” she said. “We work on things from greeting the bus driver to saying hello to employers when we first walk in.”
Students at the Transition Center are also encouraged to work in the community, through the Center’s work experience program. Anderson helps students determine what type of work would be a good fit. Some students go on to work full-time for the employers they worked for while in the program, while others look at other options.
“We work with the students to figure out if they are competitively wage employable or if we need to look at other employment opportunities after they are done (at the Transition Center),” Anderson said.
Beth Wiirre teaches home living and nutrition-related classes, often taking students grocery shopping and teaching them how to do daily tasks, such as laundry.
The Transition Center staff also offers home visits, so they can assist students with specific in-home needs.
“The thing is, it’s different at home,” Wiirre said. “They (students) can maybe do the laundry here, but at home it’s different buttons, a different kind of machine. It’s nice that the parents let us come in and do that kind of stuff.”
The Center also works to educate families of students, says Anderson.
“Our building goal this year was to educate families or make available all the resources to them,” she said. “We did so through talking through Social Security, having speakers come in, talking about mental health.”
Jaden Kendall of Clotho has been going to the Transition Center for the past three years. As a Transition Center student, he worked at Remco Industries in Alexandria.
This is Kendall’s last year at the center and he said he feels he has learned valuable life skills to prepare him for his profession as an auctioneer. He says the teachers have been instrumental in that process.
“They’re pretty much there for everything you need,” he said. “If you need help, they’ll do their best to help you.”
This year, Transition Center students also started a new venture called K-9 Kibbles. The students shop for, prepare and sell dog treats to local customers.
“It’s about sales and marketing, getting the kids to call on the telephone, write letters, go out and meet with people personally, make deliveries,” Anderson said. “The baking of (the treats) falls into the home living section, it’s teaching them the kitchen skills, and then we do the packaging and the quality control in the work application lab here. Then there’s the budgeting and money piece.”
Students used this year’s proceeds from K-9 Kibbles to sponsor a downtown flower basket in Alexandria. They plan to continue the venture next year.
In the end, Seesz says, the Transition Center is about doing whatever necessary to help students become as independent as possible.
“What makes this program so amazing is that we all get along with each other,” Seesz said. “We support each other, we love each other. It’s a happy place. … It’s about bringing everybody together to help transition the student into adult life.”