Small Town News

Local Government

Career training program in need of jobs

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

- Advertisement -

You'd be hard-pressed to find a child-care worker more passionate about their job than Kimberly McLain.

McLain has volunteered at Belfair Co-Op Preschool and in a Belfair Elementary School kindergarten classroom for more than four years, and says the position has helped prepare her for a rewarding career.

"This is what I want to do," she said. "I want to work with children."

Thanks to a program at North Mason High School, McLain has a good shot at achieving her dream full-time after she graduates high school.

McLain, 21, is a member of the special education program at the high school. She is one of six students in the program who hold volunteer positions in the community that prepare them for real-world careers after graduation.

"The idea is to help students become independent," said Patricia Espinoza-Smither, transitional skills instructor for the high school. "We want to help them develop confidence and work skills."

Espinoza-Smither founded the school-to-work transitional program four years ago to help students in the special education program learn real-world skills such as communication, work ethic and time management. The program helps prepare the students for future paid jobs while they still have the safety net of high school.

Many of the students don't graduate until they are 21 years old, but start volunteering in the program around age 16, so they gain ample experience in the volunteer sector before they need to enter the workforce.

However, Espinoza-Smither said more volunteer positions are needed for students.

"I can look at the middle school and upcoming classes, and I can tell the program is going to get bigger," Espinoza-Smither said. "I don't want there to be a waiting list for this."

Right now, Espinoza-Smither said there are only a handful of local businesses participating in the program, including the Mary E. Theler Community Center, the Salmon Enhancement Center, Belfair Co-Op Preschool, Habitat for Humanity and the North Mason Food Bank.

She is looking for businesses that need volunteers one to five days per week for two hours in the afternoons.

The job duties don't matter; Espinoza-Smither said students in the program stock shelves, complete custodial work, sort donations and clean outdoor trails at current positions. She is willing to work with businesses or nonprofit organizations to make sure the job is well-suited for the students or to find a position at the business the students could fill.

The school can also provide an on-site mentor to help students learn the ropes during the beginning of their new job.

Businesses with potential positions can contact Espinoza-Smither at 426-4412, or email


Thomas Delahay, 16, is one of the newest participants in the program. He started volunteering at Habitat for Humanity and the North Mason Food Bank earlier this year.

He said his favorite part of both jobs is getting into the community and interacting with people.

"I enjoy my job; the people are nice," he said. "Everyone's nice. That's why I enjoy it."

Students in the program start by volunteering at the high school, Espinoza-Smither said. Many of them work in the cafeteria or with the custodial staff to begin understanding the basics required of them when they hold a job.

After Espinoza-Smither feels they're ready, they can begin looking for a more permanent volunteer position in the community.

When students start a new position, paraeducator and job coach Sally Thomas is available to take them to their job and help them settle in.

"Many of the students take extra time to train," Thomas said. "But these students, they really want to work. Once they get into it, that's their new family."

Thomas said she was recently trained to work at the food bank at the same time as a student in the transitional program, so she was able to support the student if needed. However, once he started to understand the work and take responsibility, Thomas began to step back and accompany him to his shifts less often until he was independent.

McLain's younger brother, Josh, began working at the school district office, the Theler Center and the Salmon Center a few years ago.

The younger McLain, 19, said he's interested in a career as a custodian, so he likes the parts of his job where he cleans. Because he found what he's passionate about, Espinoza-Smither can find other volunteer positions in that specific field.

Josh McLain recently had an interview with Belfair Elementary School to work as a custodian for the school. He said he hasn't heard back yet, but Espinoza-Smither said she has a good feeling that he got the job.

"These are the young adults who will stay with those positions, because these are the jobs they really want," Thomas said.


The elder McLain said she always knew she wanted to work with children, so she sought jobs where she could interact with them.

Helped by her experience working at the schools for the past four years, she recently earned her STARS certification, a state training required to work in child care.

McLain said the 30-hour course was difficult, but she was driven by her passion to work with children.

"It was a lot of questions and testing and videos and reading," she said.

Once she graduates, she'll be able to seek jobs in the field she's most interested in.

During her time in the school-to-work transition program, McLain said she's learned skills that have not only helped her with her job, but in other aspects of her life.

"When (the kids) act a certain way, I learn how to take care of that problem," she said. "It helps when I'm (in a similar situation) at the store, I know what to do."

McLain said she has some skills she'd like to work on, like communicating when she doesn't understand directions, but she feels confident that she's grown a lot.

"It's amazing to see their confidence level blossom," Espinoza-Smither said.

Copyright 2016 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: June 2, 2016

More from Shelton-Mason County Journal