A pivotal moment in anyone’s life is getting a first job.
Zacoria Chunn, a 17-year-old incoming senior at Neuwoehner High School, is no exception. This summer, she is working at Big Jay’s Fish, Chicken and Shrimp on St. Charles Rock Road.
“This is my first time ever working at a job. Period.” said Zacoria. “I never worked before in my life in a real-life job.”
Aside from accomplishing the important milestone of getting her first job, Zacoria’s experience has added significance. That’s because her job is part of the Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP), which offers opportunities for high school students with disabilities to work.
Employers, like Big Jay’s, agree to hire the students over the summer. Paraquad provides a job coach, whose role is to assist with communication and skill instruction, as needed.
The rest is up to Zacoria.
“I feel like SWEP will help me to meet my goals, what I’m trying to accomplish, and teach me life skills about working in an actual environment,” Zacoria said.
She started the SWEP session with a goal of improving her communication skills. She said that she can get frustrated when facing complex tasks, which can result in “keeping things to herself” and not communicating, or in communicating in disrespectful ways. And she knows she can’t do that at a job.
“I’m learning how to communicate, and my coach is in there so she can help me with things I need help with. I’m doing good at that,” she said.
She has gained confidence in asking for clarification about tasks she’s assigned, including asking to see a demonstration on how to fill Styrofoam containers, “so I could do it the appropriate way.”
Every morning, Zacoria sweeps and mops the lobby of the walk-up and drive-thru restaurant. Then she stocks the condiments that will be used to fill orders. Once Big Jay’s opens at 10:30 a.m., she helps to fill orders. Zacoria said that her co-workers’ strong work ethic inspire her to work harder, too.
“I’m learning better to pick up the pace,” Zacoria said.
In addition to improving her communication with co-workers and supervisors, Zacoria and her grandmother, Annie Irving, said she is learning about money management, respect for peers and supervisors, and the responsibility of holding a job.
“I really respect the job,” Zacoria said. “It feels like home. I love it.”
She even said that, though she does not cook a lot at home, the job has inspired her to think about a career in the restaurant industry, as a chef, ideally at an Italian restaurant.
“I believe in myself and I know I can get there if I believe in myself.”
Zacoria is grateful to have the opportunity to participate in the SWEP program and get her first employment experience in a supportive environment.
“I just think it’s really awesome. That’s all I can say. It’s a good experience for me. And I’m really thankful that Paraquad helped me get this far and get this job. I’m really honored. Thank you. This has brought me a long way.”
Kevin Condon is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Paraquad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.