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Project HOPE For Youth

Hands On Preparation and Experience

In July 2019, the Pueblo of Jemez Vocational Rehabilitation Program (JVR) contracted with the New Mexico Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to implement a pilot internship project (H.O.P.E. for Youth) to help prepare students with disabilities for integrated, competitively-paid work. H.O.P.E. stands for Hands On Preparation and Experience.

The successful summer pilot project placed 10 students with disabilities into work experiences. The students were placed in a variety of tribal programs and businesses at the Pueblo of Jemez as well as the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the Pueblos of Zia and Cochiti. They worked about 30 hours per week and earned $10 per hour.

Two pre-employment services were taught at the work sites each week of the summer program. These included job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, workplace readiness training, instruction in self-advocacy, and information on college or post-secondary training options.

With the success of the June project, DVR then funded Project H.O.P.E. for Youth for the year. Now in its second nine-week session, the Project works with 15 students with disabilities from area high schools and places them into work assignments. The students come from Jemez Pueblo, Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, Bernalillo, Rio Rancho and Placitas. In addition, to Walatowa High Charter School, the students attend or attended Bernalillo, Jemez Valley and Cleveland High Schools. They bring various physical and invisible disabilities such as paralysis, autism, learning disabilities and other communicative and cognitive disabilities.

During the one-year program, students are placed at three jobs, working approximately 12-15 hours a week. Weekly employability skills trainings are designed to improve their ability to gain and keep employment. The training covers employment-related topics such as creating resumes, preparing for interviews, professionalism in the workplace, time sheets, budgeting, dress codes, and problem solving. An essential component focuses on communication skills like speaking up, creating clear messages, maintaining eye contact and social skills. The students also discuss education and career choices, and earn certifications in CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation,) and Customer Service. Individual sessions with Project HOPE coordinator Yolanda Toya focus on personal issues, career and educational goals and the five PreEts services required by the Workforce Innovations and Opportunities Act (WIOA): workbased learning experiences, counseling on enrollment opportunities, work place readiness training, and self-advocacy.

“Like many young adults, they ask ‘what do I do next? Where do I go?’ I help them see what opportunities are really out there,” Yolanda explains.

The students are enthusiastic about the program. Many spoke of learning essential life skills along with basic job duties. “I’ve learned to ask questions, and that it’s okay not to know what to do right away,” one young man noted. “We’re being paid to learn what to do and how to do it.” “It’s a good way to explore different career paths,” added a student who is interested in natural resources.

“A variety of job placements are available according to each student’s interests and abilities,” Yolanda says.

An important component of the program coaches students on how to handle personal interactions. “Many of the students were really shy when they first came to Project HOPE,” Yolanda says. “It’s great to see them coming out of their shells.”

“It really helped me open up,” said one young man. “At the library I need to talk to a lot of people who need help. That means actively going to them. Now I’m not scared to do that.” “I got out of being shy,” a young woman said. “Now it’s not so scary.” Another young man spoke about stepping up to help a customer in distress, noting he might once have been reluctant to take action.

Any high school junior or senior with a disability is eligible to apply. Students can refer themselves or teachers, parents or service providers can make referrals. Students should talk to their high school teachers or principals so Project H.O.P.E. can work closely with the schools. There is an assessment and interview process. If chosen, both the students and parents must be committed to the Project.

“This project will be life changing for many juniors and seniors with disabilities who need to learn employment skills. In addition, getting paid to learn and grow is just another benefit of the Project,” says Program Manager Rebecca Holland.

For more information, please call the JVR office at (575) 834-0012 or e-mail to Yolanda Toya at