Story and photo by Rick Emert
A program from Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 helps special-needs youths gain independence by teaching them various life skills.
The SOAR program teaches young adults, ages 18-21, to be Self-advocates, Outgoing, Achieving goals and Responsible citizens, according to Karin Strohmyer, transition coordinator for the District 8 SOAR Program.
The special education services program typically begins for special-needs students after they have completed their education requirements, Strohmyer said.
“They are still in a school program, because these are all students who receive special education services. Federal law provides services until they are 21 years old,” she said. “Each of the students has a different plan based on what their academic needs are. Some of them are working on reading in order to read a contract or a time card. Others are learning to read so they can read for leisure.”
The program is focused toward four areas to help the students gain independence: work, leisure, community access and education.
“They have to have needs in three of the four areas (to qualify for the program),” Strohmyer said. “We do some assessments to look at where their needs are. We might have students who have intellectual disabilities, but we might also have a student who has a social disability or behavioral disability that, if we put them out there in the community, they wouldn’t be able to survive on their own.”
Even those who can’t make it on their own can gain some level of independence, she said.
“(We) make sure that parents and students are realistic in their goals, so if we know that a student
is not able to live independently, we talk to the parents about making sure that they have a plan in place so the (child) is living supported, but (the parents) give them as much independence as possible,” Strohmyer said. “The importance is that people understand that, no matter what level a young adult is at, they do have some say in their life; they can be independent at some level.”
Those realistic goals also carry over to the vocational aspect of the program.
“I have kids who come to me, and their goal is to be an astronaut. More realistically, somebody wants to be a graphic designer for video games, or somebody wants to be a police officer,” Strohmyer said. “They don’t have the skills to be there. But, we (may) find out they want to be a graphic designer because they like animation. So, what we can do is teach them the skills to work for a graphic designer.”
The vocational skills are invaluable for Josh Martinez, a student in the program. Martinez was placed in an apprentice position at a video game store and could possibly be hired as paid staff in the near future, Strohmyer said.
“I’ve learned a lot of different stuff about my job,” Martinez said. “(The program staff) helps with safety skills and helps us figure out what days we work and what days we go to school.”
Balfour Beatty Communities allows the use of the Kit Carson Neighborhood Activity Center for the program three days a week. The trips and other facilities are funded by District 8, and the students conduct fundraisers throughout the year to pay for special trips, Strohmyer said.
“My students run a coffee shop in the high school. Every morning, they deliver coffee to teachers. We raise money that way,” she said.
“The district funds facilities for us, they fund transportation.
“We want to build the program. My goal is, for five years down the road, for them to raise enough money so we can do a trip out of state so they would know travel could be a part of their adventure. There are expenses that come up outside the district, and we take them as they come. We raise enough money to go out and do something.”
The nonprofit program frequently needs volunteers for its various trips and projects. For more information on the program, contact SOAR through Fountain-Fort Carson High School at 382-1640.