Teens with special needs introduced to workforce at "Job-a-Palooza"

The teens got a chance to meet dozens of employers and learn about job opportunities in a quite...
The teens got a chance to meet dozens of employers and learn about job opportunities in a quite unusual way.(WCTV)
Published: Mar. 10, 2020 at 5:21 PM EDT
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By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

March 10, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — It was a job fair like no other in Tallahassee Tuesday.

It's called "Job-a-Palooza" and it introduces teens with special needs to the workforce.

Teens got a chance to meet dozens of employers and learn about job opportunities in a quite unusual way.

Aaron Dixon greets customers and buses tables at Uncle Maddio's Pizza.

He worked with ARC of the Big Bend to find a job.

"Long story short,” Dixon said. “I am on the spectrum as they say, and they are so accepting of me."

His boss is a big believer in hiring those with special needs.

“At Job-a-Palooza, they asked me to find just one task in my business that they could try to do and I could teach them," Uncle Maddio’s Pizza owner Michael Holmes said.

The two were among more than a dozen employers at Tuesday's Job-a-Palooza at Leon High School, making sure the next wave of graduates has options.

"All they need is a chance," Stephen Tessel with ARC of the Big Bend told the crowd.

Each station challenged the teens to "try it."

"I discovered that a lot of them ... they are such a talented and every one of them would like to learn," said salon owner Shirin Rahimi.

"I enjoyed seeing the light in their faces," Lindsay Wescoat says as she helped the teens learn how to give manicures.

Whether it's painting nails or trying to "gear up" as a firefighter in 60 seconds or less.

"Awesome, awesome. You're making good time,” Tallahassee Firefighter Dion Dehaney told one of the teens as she finished putting on the bunker gear. “One minute and one second."

“What did you think of this?"

"Crazy," the teen said with a laugh.

Kevin Graham was at Job-a-Palooza too at the Jeri’s Café table. He's been working there for nearly seven years now.

"I’m the host with the most," Graham said.

Graham sweeps the entry way and makes sure to welcome customers at Jeri's Cafe.

"Greet them with a nice smile and take them to their seat," Graham said.

Henry Hanson works there too, wiping down tables and rolling silverware several days a week.

"Just the fact that I'm actually doing something in my life," Hanson said.

Their boss calling those hires good for the heart and good for business.

“It's so important just because of the joy factor,” owner Jeri Madden said. “Every day they come in just absolutely ready to work and always ready to give everybody a high five or a big hug."

Henry thought long and hard before sharing this bit of advice for all those teens at Job-a-Palooza.

"Don't give up. Don't think it's impossible. It's actually much easier than you think," Hanson said.

This year - WCTV hosted a booth at Job-a-Palooza, offering teens a chance to cut a news, weather or sports reel. Some opted for one-on-one interviews instead.

Each student conquered their fear of the camera and showed us what they can do.

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