July 27, 2022

GHAPS Youth Works Summer Program Celebrates 10 Years in West Michigan

The highly successful Youth Works Summer Program, which provides paid summer work opportunities for high school students with special needs, will celebrate 10 years of collaboration in West Michigan this Thursday, July 28 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. at Grand Haven State Park’s newly renovated pavilion, 1001 S. Harbor Drive, Grand Haven, MI. 

A brief presentation will showcase the program’s successes and how it has benefited students, the park and the community over the past decade. Students will share how the experience has impacted them, what they’ve learned, and what they will take with them into the future. A cake reception will follow.

Students who would most benefit from the program are selected to participate by their GHAPS teachers. “During the school year, students learn about the hiring process, how to fill out an application and how to interview,” shares Kate Augustyn, GHAPS special education director. “The students truly enjoy it and for many it’s their first paid job. They take pride in the important work they’re doing to help maintain our beautiful state park.”

This summer, two groups totaling seven students are working alongside GHAPS special education teacher and job coach Mitchell Thorsen, who oversees their work and helps them develop important life skills. “We talk about things like being on time, personal responsibility, work ethic and teamwork,” says Thorsen. “There is so much growth. They learn what it means to be a good employee, but also how to plan for each project, what tools to use, and how to best get the job done,” he says. 

Part of a statewide initiative funded by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in collaboration with Michigan Rehabilitation Services, the Youth Works Summer Program partners Grand Haven Area Public Schools, Grand Haven State Park and Ottawa Area Intermediate School District (OAISD) to create what Krista Krefeld-Freier, OAISD transition coordinator, describes as “a perfect example of a win-win for all involved.” 

Krefeld-Freier has facilitated the program’s development and planning since it began in 2013. “The students love working at the park and having an income, and the park loves having them there. They’re maintaining litter-free beach areas, assisting guests and working together on projects like painting, cleaning, seaweed control, maintaining playground equipment and much more,” she says. 

Grand Haven Area Public Schools is a district of distinction for students in preschool through 12thgrade. With a goal of providing exceptional educational experiences, GHAPS is committed to success for all students and strives to provide exemplary programs and opportunities to meet their diverse needs.