Work Readiness Program Instills Confidence in College-Bound Student

Jeep Yates had his pick of colleges after being accepted into all five universities he applied to.

He also has the confidence to succeed in a new learning environment after completing VersAbility Resources’ Pre-ETS Work Readiness Training program. The connection and support he received from his job coach were invaluable. Yates even advanced to be a student instructor mentoring others.

“The program really helped him blossom,” said his mother, April. “I definitely saw his confidence grow.”

Jeep was diagnosed with autism as a first-grader, and doctors initially told April he likely would only reach a third-grade learning level. “They saw that as a stopping point, but I didn’t,” she said.

Homeschooled, Jeep proved them wrong. He became dedicated to learning on his own in addition to the instruction provided by April. “In fact, I was doing so well, I ended up helping my mom,” he said.

Jeep struggles with social anxiety and speaking among large groups. His family moved often as his father is in the Navy, which didn’t make it easier. Referred by the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, Jeep connected with Hired Hands, specialists in Supported Employment services that train and place people with disabilities. VersAbility acquired Hired Hands in December 2020, and services continue under the VersAbility umbrella.

“He really taught me so much. We were and still are a team,” said Amanda Kuzma, Supervisor of Supported Employment and Jeep’s coach. “He is incredible.”

Jeep worked with Kuzma virtually on becoming more comfortable speaking among his peers and leading group discussions. He learned about employer expectations related to attendance, hygiene and attire. Mock interviews were helpful. “I actually watched myself on tape to make sure I did it right,” he said.

Jeep also learned email etiquette and composed several practice emails.

Jeep succeeded enough to become a student mentor, and he used the skills he gained to talk with professors at the various colleges where he applied. That confidence along with an academic record that includes six community college credits and an ACT score of 31, made him an attractive candidate for colleges. An ACT score of 31 ranks in the 95th percentile nationally.

Jeep applied to five schools — Florida State, South Alabama, Southern Mississippi, Spring Hill College and University of West Florida, which is located in his current hometown, Pensacola, Florida. He received admission to all.

He selected West Florida, where a scholarship will pay for his tuition and books, and another will pay for meals. He is eligible for another scholarship that would cover room and board. He plans to major in chemistry.

“It seems like a really good fit,” he said.

Jeep was proactive in talking with all the schools he applied to about accommodations.
“I’ve been really proud of him for stating, ‘This is what I need and the challenges I face,’” April said. “I saw a big change in that he knows how and what to ask.”

The next chapter awaits for Jeep, who is ready and eager for whatever it brings.

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