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Federal Way disabled students find job connections

Ivette Estrada, 21, helps Lori Oto in the kitchen Monday morning at 3 Dog Deli in Federal Way. Estrada is interning at the restaurant to prepare for a paid job upon graduation from school. This photo was taken on Estrada
Ivette Estrada, 21, helps Lori Oto in the kitchen Monday morning at 3 Dog Deli in Federal Way. Estrada is interning at the restaurant to prepare for a paid job upon graduation from school. This photo was taken on Estrada's 21st birthday.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror

Federal Way students with developmental disabilities are learning the ways of the working world, one job at a time.

Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) offers the Employment and Transition Program for about 10 qualifying students per year. These non-paid volunteer jobs cover anything from clerical work, building maintenance, shelf stocking, food service and retail.

A partnership between FWPS and non-profit organization Trillium helps connect students with training for future paid employment. This is a win-win situation for local businesses, which often create positions specifically for the students.

Ivette Estrada, 21, helps twice a week at 3 Dog Deli in Federal Way. Her general duties include preparing food, washing dishes and whatever else needs to be done. On Monday morning, Estrada made meatballs and menu items for the lunch hour.

With graduation on the horizon, the Federal Way High School student is especially excited about a Tuesday interview at TacoTime in Auburn. It would be her first paid job.

"I've got a lot going on," said Estrada, who also interns at Top Foods in Federal Way — and enjoys spending time with her three sisters, two brothers and two parents. "I'm busy."

3 Dog Deli owner Lori Oto, often the lone person in the kitchen, appreciates her intern's help over the past few months.

"She helps me, and I try to help her," said Oto, who is open to taking in more students who need the real-life experience of a job. "I totally believe in this program."

Other employers who work with disabled Federal Way students include Deseret Industries, Walmart, Vision Express, Safeway, Sportsman's Warehouse, Jimmy John's, Family Christian Store, Panera Bread, Heaven Sent and Trader Joe's.

The partnership between Trillium and Federal Way schools is entering its seventh year. The non-profit organization, based in Auburn, supports 36 students across King County along with students in Clark, Kitsap and Pierce counties. The students deal with cognitive disabilities caused by both genetic disorders and traumatic injuries during childhood.

Ideally, after three years in the program, participants move on to earning a paycheck through permanent employment at age 21. Nearly 85 percent of disabled students who work with Trillium have kept their paying jobs for at least one year.

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