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NMSU Dining Services partners with LCPS to prep students with disabilities for workforce

  • By Tatiana Favela
  • 575-646-7953
  • tfavela5@nmsu.edu
  • Feb 09, 2022
Photo of Bridge Program group

New Mexico State University Dining Services is teaming up with Las Cruces Public Schools to help young adults with disabilities transition into the Las Cruces workforce and provide opportunities for them to participate fully.

In 2019, Las Cruces Public Schools rolled out the Bridge Program to show young adults with disabilities how much they’re capable of and influence them to be a part of the community’s growth.

There are 40 young adults who are currently enrolled in the program, and more spots are available. Samia Fercha-Killmar, a special education teacher with LCPS, said the program is accepting new young adults on a weekly basis.

“According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students who are eligible for special education services are entitled to a free and appropriate education through the age of 21,” Fercha-Killmar said. “The Bridge Program’s aim is to help any young adult with a disability to realize their personal abilities so they will be able to lead as full and meaningful a life as possible.”

The program is a collaborative effort between four major high schools in the district: Las Cruces, Mayfield, Centennial, and Organ Mountain.

NMSU’s Dining Services has opened Taos Dining Hall and its kitchen to encourage students to get involved and experience their full potential in a real-word career. Sodexo employees will provide students with hands-on experiences during their journey, from learning basic restaurant skills to communication skills.

“At its base, NMSU Dining Services provides our young adults with a disability the opportunity to interact with other young adults without disabilities in an environment where they are all equal,” Fercha-Killmar said.

Ryan Vanderwall, director of operations at NMSU Dining Services, shared that he’s more than happy to engage with the program and help students find their full potential.

“It’s been a pleasure and an honor for our team to be able to aid in this program,” he said. “Our mission has always been to make every day a better day for the community we serve, and I couldn’t think of anything that resonates more to the core than this partnership. I believe it’s an excellent way to serve our community. It is amazing to be able to help shape future generations and truly help give opportunity and training to young adults that can positively impact them for the rest of their lives.”

The Bridge Program allows students to realize their worth in the workforce while remaining in a traditional classroom environment. Students are able to network and grow along with their peers with disabilities, with the goal of preparing them to look for jobs where they can use the skills learned throughout the program.

“In the end, people with disabilities are people first. They have the same wants and needs as any other person,” Fercha-Killmar said. “Wants and needs such as experiencing self-worth, companionship, enjoyment and something to look forward to or dream about. That is all. We just facilitate an environment where this can be possible.”

For more information about enrollment in the program, contact Vanderwall at ryan.vanderwall@sodexo.com.