Friday was a day of endings and new beginnings for the 1993 graduates of the Trainable Mentally Handicapped Program at Schwettman Adult Education Center.
The three graduates _ Lori Michelle Brown, Jimmy G. Gomes and Jennifer Lynn Matney _ received their diplomas from principal Coy Pigman and instructors Sharon Mears and Debbie Wichmanowski at a ceremony held at the Orchid Lakes Civic Association in New Port Richey. Afterward, the graduates, along with their families, friends and school officials, enjoyed a luncheon celebration prepared by TMH students.
The students worked hard for their diplomas, learning functional as well as academic skills that are used in daily life, said Wichmanowski. "This is community-based instruction," she said. "Because these kids learn better in the real environment, we take them into the real world _ out grocery shopping and to restaurants."
Money for these programs is raised by students who sponsor bake sales, have their own button business, and sell iced tea and coffee in the school hallways. "We raise about $5,000 a year," said Wichmanowski. Most students also enter training programs sponsored by the Association for Retarded Citizens. ARC provides job coaches, who give students on-the-job training.
These graduates are just like any other graduates, said Wichmanowski. Some are more prepared for the future than others.
Graduate Jimmy Gomes hasn't decided on his future. .
But Jennifer Matney has definite ideas.
"I have two things I want to do," she said. "I want to work with handicapped kids or in day care. This summer I'm going to work with handicapped kids in the summer youth program (at Hudson High School) because I'm better with that." Jennifer will also be going into a Supportive Job Training and Supported Living Program, said Wichmanowski, where she will learn how to live and work on her own.
Graduate Lori Brown is completing training at Chick-Fil-A, a fast food restaurant in Gulf View Mall. For the past three weeks she has been learning how to prepare sandwiches and help clean the dining room. Lori said she's happy with her new job: "I like making sandwiches and cleaning tables."
Chick-Fil-A owner Mark Tolle says Lori has been a success. "She's a lot of fun," he said. "We like her _ the customers like her. She's happy and upbeat. That's hard to find nowadays."
Lin and Paul Brown, Lori's parents, both say they are very proud of their daughter's accomplishments. "She loves being busy; she loves doing her job. I'm ecstatic," said her mother. "It always seemed like it (graduation) was such a far away day."
"She's just like any other child who's graduated," said her father, "This is fantastic!"