When Dan Soto landed a full-time manufacturing job, he was making much more than critical parts for various machines -- he was also making a major positive change in his life.
Soto, who participated in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program at John Hersey High School, was part of the District 214 Life Program for almost three years. Despite his hearing challenges, he was able to gain interdependence and manufacturing skills with the assistance of the program, which provides transitional services following high school.
The district's Center for Career Discovery, which places students in valuable work-based learning experiences, also played a role, matching him with an internship with longtime District 214 partner Keats Manufacturing Co. in Wheeling.
"Dan is probably one of the nicest and most genuine students that I have had," said Katie Termion, his case manager. "He's a hard worker, and he's very aware of others and their feelings."
Termion said that while students have been hired in part-time positions and volunteer experiences, it is unusual for a student to be hired for a full-time position while in the Life Program.
"Dan has been a smashing success," Termion said, pointing out that he was offered a full-time manufacturing job with insurance and a 401(k) plan.
"He's trying to be better and better," said Dan's father, Celso Soto, about his son's manufacturing work. "I am so happy with this program. His life has changed."
In addition to learning new job skills during his time at Keats, Celso said his son is more motivated in general now, developing new hobbies such as running.
In the Life Program, which currently has an enrollment of 110, students spend half of the day in the classroom and the other half participating in volunteer vocational experiences, often with a job coach from District 214. Program training includes daily living and communication skills, work-based learning and personal management.
Dan's on-the-job experience at Keats, which does precision metal stamping for electronic applications in cars, appliances and medical devices, and his hard work and dedication led the company to offer him a full-time position.
"They realized what a valuable employee he would be," said Jack O'Neal, with District 214's Life Program.
Dan also received support from Julie Lee, his American Sign Language interpreter, throughout his time in the Life Program.
"We helped him with (building his life skills), but this is all coming from him," said Termion, who added that Dan's strong work ethic and character got him where he is today.
The district's Center for Career Discovery works with more than 1,500 partners to place students into internships that help them discover their future. Other Life Program opportunities have included roles for students in health care, hospitality and retail.
Keats is a longtime supporter of the internship program, and also financially supports student futures through regular gifts to the District 214 Education Foundation.
For more details, visit www.d214.org.