By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer
When guests leave Reba’s Ranch House for the hospital to see their loved one, they sometimes encounter a unique group of young adults who are there on a mission: to help keep the ranch house running smoothly.
This group of young people that bring smiles and comfort to the guests at the ranch house are with the Grayson Co-Op FLITE Team. The three-year program, under the Grayson County Co-op Special Education service, allows students to participate in programs throughout the school year.
Directed by Angele Johnson, FLITE stands for “Foundations of Learning Independence through Transitional Experiences.” One program it utilizes is volunteering nine hours each week at the ranch house.
“Whatever Ms. Jeri tells us to do, we do,” Angele says.
Sometimes the group is still there at lunchtime when guests gather in the dining room. Angele might be doing a lesson with the students, talking with them about career choices or how to keep a schedule.
“The guests at the house sit there and are amazed that we are not only educating them but we’re also hands-on tactile teaching them the things at Reba’s,” Angele says. “So it’s a two-fold place for us because if we’re not busy with the bed making and the activities at Reba’s, we’re doing functional academics. They need these steps to be able to move forward.”
The students’ opportunities were expanded two years ago when Texas Workforce Commission, which sponsors the program, incorporated paid work opportunities.
Once they complete their first year of programming, which includes many volunteer hours at Reba’s Ranch House, the students are eligible to move into paid work experiences. This lets the students come to school and be paid.
“All 6 of my students have employment on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Angele says. “TWS hires a job coach and each site has a coach, so the students are learning how to take instruction from someone other than me. It makes it a lot of fun to come to school, and also to be utilized.”
Their journey always includes volunteer work at Reba’s Ranch House. That work brings them into the community and makes them part of it.
“Reba has us there as a commitment to her community,” Angele says. “I’m blessed to have all of these resources, and I’m so excited that after ten years of doing this program, it is absolutely coming together.
“It’s because of places like Reba’s and Texas Workforce that my students learn functional life skills, learn how to be a community member, and have the opportunities that come to them,” Angele says. “Their experiences are helping them gain access to the community because of the things they are doing whether it be at their job or Reba’s.
“When there is an exchange between the students and the guests at Reba’s, it always puts a smile on their faces.”