This summer, teens with disabilities entered the workforce the same way many teens do—a summer job. Community Living’s Employment Services supported participants in the Summer Work Experience Program (SWE) and Summer Teen Employment Program (STEP) at Schnucks and Golden Corral for six weeks this summer.

SWE is funded through Vocational Rehabilitation. Students spend 20 hours a week fulfilling the duties of their summer job and fine-tuning their soft skills like teamwork, attitude, communication, and professionalism. This year’s SWE participants were responsible for bagging groceries, collecting carts, and conditioning the shelves at Schnucks in St. Peters. Mallory, one of the participants, explained that conditioning the shelves means “you make the shelves look like they’re more full” by pulling the items forward.

Mallory’s favorite activities are bagging and retrieving carts, but she also got a chance to use the checkout scanner one day and said that was a highlight. With her new job comes a new paycheck, and she’s being responsible with her income. For the most part, she’s saving what she earns, but she did splurge on a few things. “The first thing I did was I went to Barnes and Noble,” she said. She also bought candy and flowers for her grandma’s birthday.

Kayden, one of Mallory’s coworkers in SWE, said he prefers to work the shelves. His career aspiration is to be a game designer, but he wouldn’t mind working in a grocery store as a second option. “Everybody’s really nice,” he said. “I’ve only really ever had one mean customer.”

Summer Teen Employment Program, or STEP, is a similar program funded by the Developmental Disabilities Resource Board of St. Charles County and EasterSeals Midwest. The purpose of the program is to introduce high school students to the differences between school and work and to help them determine which types of jobs they might be interested in after graduation.

Community Living worked with STEP participants at Golden Corral this year. They arrive before the restaurant opens to clean tables and sweep the floor. Once the buffet opens, they’re busy bussing tables by clearing off used dishes and trays and wiping down the tables between guests. The group is divided about which time of day they prefer. Zane says he likes working in the quiet restaurant before it opens, but Matthew and William like bussing tables better. They’re also divided about how much they enjoy working in a restaurant overall. William says he’d like to look for another restaurant job in the future, while Matthew says he’s not sure if he’d be interested in working in a restaurant again even though he had a positive experience this summer.