-  YTP and SPIN assist students in Reynolds School District with job readiness, life skills and independency

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Reynolds High senior Steven Alexander (Alex) Otis Mays works with Genta Guitron, MHCC merchandise buyer and customer service supervisor, during his 2-4 p.m. shift at the bookstore.

The transition from high school into adulthood is tough enough for traditional students.

For students struggling with disabilities, poverty or a lack of support, that transition is exponentially more difficult.

Enter programs such as SPIN (Students Preparing for Individualized Needs) and YTP (Youth Transition Program), two vocational rehabilitation programs that support, guide and mentor students into adulthood in the Reynolds School District.

Students learn about topics such as job development skills, higher education, financial planning, independent living, housing, medical and mental health resources and other social services.

SPIN and YTP partner with businesses in Fairview, Gresham and Troutdale, connecting students with internships and work experience.

“These businesses open their doors and their hearts to take on these students and give them the skill sets and confidence they need to work,” said YTP Specialist Naomi Bledsoe.

“We say they are building tomorrow’s work force, instilling students with the skills they need to make the next leap. It’s a path — a stepping stone. What you learn in the four walls of school is much different from what you can learn out in the community.”

Reynolds High senior Steven Alexander (Alex) “Otis” Mays has flourished working as a bookstore associate at Mt. Hood Community College the past couple months through the SPIN program.

“Everything in his life has changed because of this job,” said Carolyn Merrill, transition specialist with SPIN who has worked closely with him.

Mays, a 17-year-old senior who speaks openly about his autism, lights up talking about his work experience position.

From barcoding to restocking, from assisting students with finding their textbooks to helping them pick out graduation regalia, he has learned invaluable customer service skills at MHCC.

He has also made big plans for the future, with aspirations of becoming a rapper, producer, actor, masseuse and salesman.

In the process of learning to live independently and looking into attending MHCC, Mays said he appreciates all the support and would “walk two bridges” to make his dreams happen.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Mays, 17, is a Reynolds senior in the SPIN program.

“I work on training people to have warm and friendly personalities, but he’s just a natural,” said Genta Guitron, MHCC merchandise buyer and customer service supervisor. “He spoiled us, and he will be a tough act to follow. I hope this is the first opportunity of many to have a student from Reynolds in the store. We want to see people reach their goals and continue to grow with the program.”

This was the first partnership MHCC bookstore has done with SPIN or YTP. Bledsoe describes the business partnerships as life-altering for participating students.

Win Vandenberg, 19, a junior, said he was reluctant at first about participating in YTP. But after striking out in the job search, YTP was just what he needed to secure an internship and then employment at Walgreens.

“In the end, it turned out to be downright perfect for me,” Vandenberg said. “I always had the dream, but the job thing was always a dead end. Naomi came into my life and helped me get the internship and two months later, an actual paying job.”

Vandenberg dreams of playing professional baseball eventually, but for now he’s grateful to make his foray into the working world.

While Bledsoe and Merrill oversee different programs with separate funding sources — the district also offers the “Cornerstone” program for special education students, a third tier of transition services — they work closely together and cater services to each individual student, working on self-exploration, personal management and job readiness.

There are students in various stages, with mental health shaping much of the students’ progress. Being sensitive in understanding poverty, diversity and family dynamics is important.

One of their goals as coaches is taking a lead from the students and being active listensxers.

If a student says he or she wants to be a brain surgeon, Bledsoe and Merrill don’t talk them out of it or say, “You’ll never be a brain surgeon.” They take the student’s goals and look at what branches in the medical field could be a good fit.

Over the past decade, Merrill said she had been amazed at students’ abilities to overcome obstacles and pursue higher education or find gainful employment after their time in SPIN.

She and Bledsoe said the Department of Education has placed a huge emphasis on transitions, particularly in the past 10 years. They are helping students manage their disabilities and know how to work things to their advantage.

“You can look at this as a job that might take a miracle because they’re diamonds in the rough, but each person has something to work on in their life,” Merrill said. “We all have things we’re really good at and not so good at. None of us focus on what we can’t do or what we’re not good at — we focus on what we do best.”

Added Bledsoe, speaking about student development in SPIN and YTP, “The transformation can happen in a very short amount of time, or it can take until they’re 21. We’re that safety net for students. We hate to put anyone in a box because there is no box.”

For more information about YTP or SPIN, visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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