DNR Partnership with Rewarding and Productive Michigan Rehabilitation Services | News, Sports, Work

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Photo DNR Austin Pesonen, a registered with the Michigan Rehabilitation Services, releases a Canadian goose after the bird was tied up in Baraga State Park in Baraga County.

By John Pepin

Deputy DNR Public Information Officer

LANSING – During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, with businesses, schools and churches closed, a record number of people in Michigan began going outdoors for recreation, exercise and relaxation.

In addition to the increase in the number of hunters, fishermen, and off-road vehicle operators, the increase in visitors to Michigan’s 103 state parks strained the ability of park staff to keep up with the demands of regular operation.

Even before the coronavirus hit, state park campers and day-use visitors reached 28 million in 2019 – a new record. Next year visits increased to 35 million, despite the parks having no staff from March to June 2020.

“In 2019, campers booked a total of 1.2 million camp nights, including rural and modern campgrounds and accommodations in state parks and state forest camps throughout Michigan.” said Debbie Leisner, a revenue specialist from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Recreation Division. “In 2020, the number dropped slightly to 1.1 million before setting a new record in 2021 at 1.4 million camp nights.”

Amid this backdrop of record-breaking visits and accompanying demands placed on the state park system, a simple group of heroes appeared on stage, ready and able to work.

This was nothing new to them.

These high school students from the Michigan Rehabilitation Services have helped make state park operations work better for the past 15 years.

They did so despite the challenges encountered in running their program during the pandemic.

Support structure

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Michigan Rehabilitation Services is a state-of-the-art network of vocational rehabilitation professionals developing creative, personalized solutions that meet the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities for the program and businesses.

“We provide personalized services that help potential employees with different skills prepare, pursue and maintain careers.” said Jennifer Hirst, a rehabilitation consultant for the Michigan Rehabilitation Services. “We are partnering with businesses to ensure that we adequately prepare potential and qualified candidates to meet the demands of the industry, including technical consulting and support related to disability and employment factors. “We are committed to building the workforce of tomorrow – today.”

The mission of the agency is to develop personalized workforce solutions for businesses and individuals with disabilities. Its vision is a diverse and inclusive workforce that brings together businesses and individuals with disabilities toward a common good.

In the case of DNR, the agency works through local programs, high school districts and regional education service agencies to adapt students with disabilities aged 14-26 with paid work-based learning opportunities in DNR.

DNR offers the workplace.

Working with DNR offers participating students the opportunity to function as part of a team, valuable work experience and transition, and connections with campers in Michigan state parks.

“This partnership promotes equality and inclusion and contributes to the overall mission of our work.” said Alexis Hermiz, DNR official for diversity, equality and inclusion. “The program highlights participants’ skills and contributions and serves as an important link to valuable work experience in their career paths.”

Two young people work with a shovel and a wheelbarrow on a playground project.

Students are selected for the program together by Michigan Rehabilitation Services and local educators.

The program is funded by a mix of state and federal money.

Putting the parts in place

Six to eight weeks before the start of work on the DNR, a preparatory and planning phase takes place when all project managers or designees meet for presentations and to determine project details by location.

Student candidates gain experience by completing a mock application and developing a CV. Project leaders and designees participate in candidate interviews and pre-season security training.

Orientation is provided for participants and parents to familiarize them with a range of topics, including expectations, attendance, safety, time management, medical emergency forms, omissions, clothing, insect protection, etc.

“We encourage our staff to foster a positive and energetic attitude from the very beginning of the work experience, realizing that the first few days of transition can be challenging for some of the participating students.” said Doug Rich, the Upper Peninsula’s western district supervisor and liaison for the Michigan Rehabilitation Services. “We thank those who joined our summer team, we hold team building exercises, we congratulate them for the job well done and we hold a celebration ceremony at the end of the experience.”

Work teams typically consist of approximately half a dozen students working under the supervision of a work coach. Crews work four hours every day, up to five days a week. The crews start work from mid-June to mid-August.

Projects range from repairing picnic tables, splitting firewood and repairing or removing sidewalks or stairs to washing windows and screens, placing signs, and inspecting or repairing fences.

Tasks that students perform including collecting and cleaning beach debris, cleaning and clearing hiking trails, clearing parking islands, assisting with fishing and camping coffee programs and other opportunities to interact with the public, terrain maintenance and cleaning in and around showers and more. ancillary buildings.

“We get good feedback from the public,” he said. tha Rich. “Increasing the DNR workforce leads to the completion of more projects during the peak season. Positive improvements to the facilities, in turn, lead to improved visitor experiences. ”

Pages and statistics

DNR inclusion in the program began in Traverse City State Park in 2008, with eight students from the local high school district attending.

From 2008 to 2010, the program was expanded to include Interlochen State Park. In 2010, the DNR met with the Michigan Rehabilitation Services to expand attendance and raise federal funding for the program. By 2012, several state-owned forest camps had been added to the job list.

In 2013, the program expanded nationwide with significant increases in the number of jobs in state parks, participating students, and funding sources. By 2017, 335 students participated in the program in 44 state parks across Michigan.

During the 2021 summer season, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness state parks, FJ McLain, Baraga, Van Riper, Brimley, Tahquamenon Falls and Twin Lakes participated in the Upper Peninsula.

In the Lower Peninsula, state parks included included Cheboygan, Wilderness, Petoskey, Young, Fish Island, Traverse City, Orchard Beach, Ludington, Mears, Grand Haven, Newago, Holland, Van Buren, Dodge Park no. 4, Sleepy Hollow, Milliken, Sterling, Warren Dunes and Bay City, Pontiac Lake and Holly Recreation Areas.

In 2018, to improve administrative efficiency, an inter-institutional agreement was reached to utilize state funding from the DNR Parks and Recreation Division and the Michigan Rehabilitation Services to capture relevant federal funding.

That year, 269 students participated nationwide, with 275 the following year. Ninety-two percent of those who started the program in both of those years completed it. In 2019, 28 educational agencies and 17 Michigan Rehabilitation Services offices were incorporated throughout Michigan.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic had a significant impact on the program, with the number of student participants falling to 54, maintaining a 91% completion rate, and the number of jobs in the state park falling to 14. Eight educational agencies and Rehabilitation Services offices in Michigan were involved.

State funding for the program declined during this time, respectively. With the inter-institutional agreement remaining in force, the program continued to receive relevant federal funding for the program.

“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the parks were still dedicated to providing a summer work experience.” tha Rich. “If it were not for the summer work experience, the DNR sites might not have been able to maintain the parks with the then influx of visitors.”

In a summer experience-based survey, 78% of DNR, education and LEO staff said the Michigan Rehabilitation Services project was something they would recommend.

High marks

Educators, DNR staff, and Michigan Rehabilitation Services staff commented on the 2020 survey, pointing to multiple ongoing program values ​​for all parties involved.

In response, after being asked what was most positive about the program, one educational partner said they had 10 students who completed the program that summer.

“For many students, this was their first paid work experience. “The parents were excited for their young people to have the opportunity.” said the respondent, saying that some past participants had found success in the future. “. We had four new DNR employees working in the summer, who were hired by the DNR in a state park this summer. This is great and speaks volumes about the quality of the experience. ”

A DNR supervisor said they like to see participants grow as the season goes on.

“They gain a lot of work experience, but the most positive thing they gain is social skills.” said the supervisor. “Our staff also benefits from the program by working side by side with them.”

Another liked it “Smiles on students’ faces after completing a project / task /.”

A program advisor said the DNR organized a central location to report to work at a park that also provided bicycles for students.

The most positive thing for that respondent was “Community members commenting directly to students on how their work improved the park.”

Another said, “Although the program was shortened due to COVID-19, the participants were excited to engage in the work experience. The work coaches and park staff were extremely supportive and I received a lot of positive feedback from everyone involved. ”

This is the time of year when new student candidates are being sought for the program to work in state parks this summer.

If you are visiting a state park this summer, chances are good that you can see some of these talented and motivated student heroes at work.

They will be there to help your state park experience everything you hope it will be. Offering a good word or an acknowledgment for a job well done can make their state park experience everything they hope it will be as well.

For more information on the summer youth work program, visit: Michigan.gov/MRS.

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