This year marks the Polus Center’s 5th season of the Envision Success Project (ESP), a “Pre- Employment Transition Service” supported by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) that provides career exploration, work readiness training, internships, post-high school planning and advocacy skills for teens who are blind or visually impaired. Each student works with Polus team members and their MCB Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to identify interests and development needs, and together we create a plan to help with the journey toward educational and career success (and all the adolescent challenges they might meet along the way!). Students can join at age 14 and stay with us until they graduate from high school or until they reach the age of 22.
The first couple of years brought us all over Massachusetts, visiting workplaces like hospitals, attorney offices, manufacturing facilities, banks, government offices, and small businesses. If a visit sparked interest, students could do a summer internship such as with a photography studio, at Congressman McGovern’s office, at local cable TV stations, in hospitals, on local farms. After visits, students shared restaurant meals and socialized. “ESPers” get to know each other through social events and shared experiences, and graduates tell us that they have met lifelong friends through the process. Sometimes the social event was the visit, such as attending audio-described theater performances and exploring jobs in the arts and entertainment fields.
When the pandemic happened, like the rest of the world, ESP needed to re-think how to continue this important work but in a different way. We did Zoom calls and webinars. Students presented to each other on areas of interest. We listened to guest speakers, and we used the virtual space to process the unique circumstances that began in 2020 and to create a forum called “Our Blind Life” to help students share challenges and strategies of sometimes being the only blind student in their school. We are glad to be “back on the road,” though we still integrate Zoom into the mix of activities with classes such as Essential Skills for Employment, Workplace Readiness, and Creative Writing.
In 2022 we welcomed several new students to ESP from throughout the state and they have begun to travel together to events and workplace tours. In October a couple of students interested in automotive repair went to a car show in Palmer and got to do a “full-throttle ride- along” in a race car. In December we toured a coffee roaster in Lunenburg.
In January students went to the Mosaic Art Center in Holliston MA and took a class with Cheryl Cohen, and students, Polus staff and family members went to see an audio-described performance of Hamilton in Boston. Over February vacation we took a tour of the 3D printing lab at UMass Amherst and spoke to staff about careers in Information Technology (IT). Lots of activities are planned for spring, including a tour of Berklee School of Music’s Assistive Music Technology (AMT) Lab that fully integrates blind and visually impaired students into the Berklee experience, visits to Springfield area museums with an introduction to AIRA technology that provides live, on-demand access to visual information, and a trip to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
If you would be interested in offering a student tour, would like to teach a class, or have an idea for a social activities, please contact Theresa Kane, tkane [at] poluscenter.org. If you are a student interested in joining ESP please contact your MCB VR Counselor.