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Learning to Work

By France Griggs Sloat

Inside Sarah Patterson’s backpack, tucked in between her notebook and lunch box, is a small baggie containing a calculator, a blood-testing device and a syringe loaded with insulin. It’s her daily guarantee that she’ll be able to complete her workday as a food preparation worker in Xavier’s student cafeteria, where she spins lettuce, slices onions and carefully removes the tails from shrimp.

Patterson, who has Down syndrome, is one of 11 students working on campus with Project Search, an organization that strives to move people with disabilities into the workforce. Xavier is one of just five sites—and the first college—working with the organization. “It’s all about inclusiveness, and it’s powerful,” says Ron Slepitza, vice president for student development. “These people have a lot more gifts and talents than you’d ever imagine. It’s mind-expanding for us and our students.” Students work in several venues—the O’Connor Sports Center, groundskeeping, information technology, the theater and the library. They attend class with their job coaches before going to their jobs around campus. They also eat together and write in their journals before going home.

Patterson, 21, has gained so much confidence from the program—she’s learned to manage her insulin program and ride the buses on her own—that she’s already thinking of her next step. “I like my job, and I want to get a job at the Beechmont Kroger,” she says. “They have a salad bar there.”

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