Special-ed students get help by giving

Bobby Costello, right, and others from Clover Park School District’s Alfaretta Transition Program rebag rice at Emergency Food Network.
Bobby Costello, right, and others from Clover Park School District’s Alfaretta Transition Program rebag rice at Emergency Food Network.

Sometimes Bobby Costello needs help. Sometimes he gives it.

Recently the 20-year-old was working at the Emergency Food Network in Lakewood, repacking food for families in need.

“It’s a very rewarding experience knowing that no one will go hungry,” he said.

Costello is one of the 15 special education students in the Alfaretta Transition Program in the Clover Park School District.

The students, aged 18 to 21, need extra training and support to become more independent in their lives.

The program operates out of a house on Alfaretta Street Southwest in Lakewood, for which the program is named.

The students work on financial and life skills, such as cooking, shopping, planning meals and riding the bus. They get mentoring, life coaching and the chance to practice job skills.

They also volunteer at local organizations. Recently, they’ve been working at the Emergency Food Network.

The network’s volunteer coordinator, Merrit Reed, said she loves when the Alfaretta kids come to help out.

“They always come in with great energy and positive attitudes,” she said. “They are truly interested in being a part of the community and helping the community. It’s amazing to see.”

The students have helped repack food that’s donated or bought in bulk into family-sized packages that go to local food banks.

This involves scooping and packing such foods as beans, frozen corn and lentil soup mix.

During their volunteer hours on four visits, the students have helped pack more than 11,560 pounds of food, totaling more than 9,000 meals.

They’ve also volunteered at Goodwill, the Fort Lewis Thrift Shop, Lakewood City Hall, Habitat for Humanity and Northwest Harvest.

Opportunities such as these help the students learn vocational skills and other skills applicable to many jobs, such as following directions and completing a work shift, said Sean Whalen, the director of Special Education at Clover Park.

“This meets one of our core values for engagement and community service, and it’s a great opportunity for these students to be engaged,” Whalen said.

Linda Allan, a job coach and paraeducator, goes with the students on many of their volunteer excursions and gets to watch the students learn and grow.

“Each student comes to Alfaretta House with a goal for what they want to do with their lives,” she said. “The Alfaretta House program is like a family and allows students to grow and trust one another.”

The program is a valuable one for the school district, Deputy Superintendent Brian Laubach said.

“It gives students a different learning environment and really helps to bridge that transition from high school,” he said.

Seeing the transformation of the students, some of whom joined the district as early as the age of 3 for preschool, is inspiring, Whalen said.

“It’s awesome to get to watch these students grow up,” he said. “This is a way we make a difference. We just try to make their world as big as possible.”