(West Springfield, MA) – Like many parents of a child with disabilities, there have been times when Amelia Leo has struggled to find services for her daughter, Stephanie. Diagnosed with Global Dyspraxia, Leo says the neurological disorder affects every part of her daughter’s life, “from academics to coordination,” and at 16-years of age, Leo is concerned about what the future will hold for Stephanie. “I honestly don’t know what she will do with her life,” says Leo. “What I do know is that my daughter needs life skills.”

Enter Work Opportunities Unlimited. “We offer a relatively new program that’s being offered to students with disabilities called Pre-employment Transition Services or Pre-ETS,” says Nick Kidwell, a Career Resource Specialist with Work Opportunities Unlimited. “It’s an innovative, community-based approach that’s centered around career exploration. It gives students with disabilities the opportunity to make informed decisions about their futures by trying a career experience, early-on, before they graduate, to better identify what they want to do in life. It’s funded by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) and for the students I serve, it’s been a game changer.”

MRC works with school systems throughout the Baystate to identify eligible students and Work Opportunities provides the Pre-ETS services to those in need. The services include job exploration counseling, work readiness training, work-based learning experiences, counseling on post-secondary education opportunities and self-advocacy.

“We started out with workplace readiness training,” says Kidwell. “Stephanie learned about resume building, how to apply for a job, how to interview… from there we moved onto job exploration where we really dug in and looked at the specifics of what Stephanie would like to do once she graduates, and what she needs to do to make it more real, whether it’s college or stepping directly into the workplace.”

“Through her school, Stephanie had been interning at Armbrook Village nursing home, and through the Pre-ETS process, further identified that she’d like to work as an activities coordinator; she likes to put a smile on people’s faces,” says Kidwell. “But to give her a broader spectrum of understanding of that field, we visited the West Springfield Senior Center, so that Stephanie could explore a different community of seniors; we also we went on job tours of local businesses to help her experience different workplaces.”


“Stephanie was one of the first kids to go through the Pre-ETS program in the West Springfield area,” says Leo. “She really enjoyed it. She met with Nick after school and worked hard to succeed.  Stephanie got to practice interview skills and how to build a resume, but most important to me was she learned how to advocate for herself. At the end of the Pre-ETS experience, she actually did a power-point presentation in front of her IEP team; she wanted to show the school system what she can do – she CAN do this, it’s just going to take longer. I was so impressed!!”

“What I hoped for Stephanie with this program was that she would begin to see where her strengths and passions are, that she would build life and work skills, and learn to better advocate for herself,” says Leo. “I think that Nick and Pre-ETS gave her the confidence to know that maybe she can get a job or can go to college. I think she knows now that she’s capable.”

“Pre-ETS does make a difference,” says Kidwell. “Gaining job skills and the confidence it brings, is something that everyone needs at some point. The kids like it because its practical and they can apply it to their lives. The outcome for Stephanie was gaining a better understanding of the reality of a job and what it’s like to work; she has more knowledge now than she had going into this process.”

“I don’t think a lot of families know about this program,” says Leo. “It’s hard when you have children who have learning disabilities and they need a helping hand; finding programs for this age group is difficult. My advice to parents is to take advantage of this program – the more exposure your kids have, the more informed they are, it better positions you and your child for the future.”