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First Published Thursday, 5 March 2009

Menasha High School

By Michael King • Post-Crescent staff writer • March 2, 2009

APPLETON — As each image appears on the computer screen on the desk in front of him, the fingers on Jimmy Brodhagen’s right hand spring to action.

He deftly enters numbers from paperwork he has scanned into the computer to start the indexing process for packing slips at Ferguson, an Appleton wholesale plumbing and piping business.

Brodhagen, a Menasha High School student with autism, has worked three days a week for more than a year at the business, whose employees have embraced him.

Kathleen Belongea, MHS educational autism case manager, called it a “new frontier” where students with autism, like Brodhagen, can bring a high level of interest and expertise into certain areas of the work force.

“I do about 400 (data entries daily), between 400 and 500,” Brodhagen said about his typical five-hour work shift that includes a 45-minute lunch hour and other breaks during which he visits with his co-workers.

Besides scanning documents and data entry, Brodhagen is in charge of the “birthday board” in the entryway that recognizes birthdays and anniversaries for Ferguson’s 85 associates.

“What I like best about Ferguson is that I work with the ladies in the afternoon,” he said.

One of those women is Kathy Sultze, Ferguson inventory manager. In 2007, Sultze approached her boss about participating in the school-to-work program at Menasha High School, where Sultze’s sister is a counselor and program coordinator.

“(General manager Bill Harrison) was all for it,” Sultze said. “We like to do a lot with the community.”

The result has been a win-win situation.

“He’s great,” Harrison said of Brodhagen. “We’ve seen a real nice maturation process with him and (growing) level of comfort with people. He’s very, very good with numbers and very good with memorization.”

“Jimmy’s not only grown himself but I think he’s helped us here become better people,” Sultze said.

Kelly Brodhagen refers to her 19-year-old son as a “super senior” since special education students can attend school in Wisconsin until they reach 21.

She is grateful for Ferguson’s unpaid internship and hopeful that “eventually when school is done that this could lead to some meaningful employment for him.

“He’s doing more and more (on his own),” Kelly said. “His work stay is primarily independent and he’s reaching towards independence. We’re really excited about that.”

“This has been a nice job for him because his capabilities can shine,” said Wendy Jung, a school district paraprofessional who accompanies Brodhagen at Ferguson.

“He caught on to it so quickly. He keeps track of his own time. He’s always very polite. He’s a very hard worker. He does a very, very nice job,” said Jung.

“Jimmy’s ability to read and spell is phenomenal; his sense of humor and willingness to work are truly just a few of his strengths,” Belongea said. “His social understanding at work develops each day as they have accepted him as a contributing member of their team.”

Many businesses support work assessments for students with disabilities, said Ann Bell, a counselor and school-to-work coordinator at MHS. “We are always looking for new business relationships to give our students a wide variety of opportunities to explore future career options.”

Source:   http://www.postcrescent.com/article/20090302/APC0101/903020434/1979&located=RSS

1. Mike Siegl left…

Saturday, 26 September 2009 4:58 am

This is a wonderful opportunity for businesses to help in ways that really, no one else can. Businesses like Ferguson – and I am aware of others such as TheCommunityPage.com – that take the time to help teach these kids meaningful life skills in a real work environment should be commmended. It truly represents the spirit which I like to think makes Northeast Wisconsin different from the rest of the country. My hat’s off to Ms. Bell for taking the initiative to coordinate and improve this project at Menasha High School. Your obvious interest in these kids shines through. God bless you!

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