Special Needs Students Get Real World Experience at St. Joe’s

WARREN, Ohio – Eric Gosling, a student in the Trumbull Career and Technical Center Jobs Training program for special needs individuals, hopes to find a part-time housekeeping position at Mercy Health – St. Joseph Warren Hospital.

Gosling, who will turn 18 in February, has been training for the position since last school year with his mentor, Marvetta Wells.

“He was real shy when he first came,” Wells says, but adds Goslin now is on top of the details of the job. “He’s very good. He learned quick and he was willing. He’s a good worker, a very good worker.”

Wells says her boss feels comfortable putting Gosling to work on his own and he knows what to do in different departments. He stocks his own cart, changes paper towels in the bathrooms, mops and wipes down surfaces, among many support roles. Gosling says he does not have a favorite job or area to work. He likes them all.

“He’s not lollygagging or hanging out. He works,” Wells says. “I think Eric can work just about anywhere.”

The TCTC Jobs Training program was created last school year after another program that partnered with the hospital ended several years ago. The program allows students with special needs to learn the skills they need to thrive in the workforce.

“Some of the kids need a little more support, a little more coaching, which is fine,” says Charlotte Gardiner, president and CEO of Mercy Health-St. Joseph Warren Hospital. “They are doing great. It’s nice to see their smiling faces in the hallway.”

A lot of people are learning and training at St. Joseph’s and Gardiner says these students are not unlike student nurses and residents. The students wear scrubs that match the other employees, are invited to employee recognition events and fit right in as they learn the skills for support positions – jobs that can be difficult to fill.

“It’s not just nurses and doctors. It’s a city,” Gardiner says. “We have a variety of jobs. So getting these kids exposed to all the different support positions, it’s really an open door for them. And once they’re here with us, there is a lot of opportunity for internal mobility. They can go on and learn other skills if they would like.”

Gardiner said hospital leadership was all in favor of bringing back TCTC students to train at the hospital.

Melissa Starkey, special needs supervisor at TCTC, credits Job Training instructors Sarah Wood and Matt Lukach with rekindling the program and rebuilding their partnership with the hospital.

Students first learn soft skills before getting to the hospital.

Lukach notes the students initially work in the Hot Spot, a market in the school operated by students during lunch periods. Then Lukach or another instructor accompanies them at St. Joe’s or other community-based work sites.

Lukach says the school is always looking for other partnerships to give students additional exposure to jobs.

The students need 250 work-based learning hours to meet their graduation requirement. The volunteer aspect earns them a community service seal and allows them a pathway to graduate, according to Lukach.

“This is an alternate pathway for our type of students, since most of our students with special needs struggle with the passing end-of-course exams,” Lukach says. “It’s also a good opportunity because this hospital is struggling for some positions like housekeeping and dietary and they’re hiring. Our hope is that when these students graduate, they will be able to help fill that need.”

Students work with different mentors, get feedback from their mentors and supervisors and gain new experiences.

“We’re fortunate to have Marvetta [Wells] because not every employee or mentor will stay and teach our kids like Marvetta has,” Lukach says.

Starkey notes students may learn what they want or – more importantly – don’t want to do for their careers.

“What I like is that they’re getting real-world feedback from other employees who are working at the hospital,” Starkey says. “Some of the staff at the hospital who are management or leaders there are also providing feedback to them so it’s real-world and [the students] look at it differently.”

Feedback about the program overall is positive.

“We’re very blessed to have them. I think it’s a two-way street,” says Missy Rucci, vice president of nursing. “It’s just absolutely wonderful. We’re fortunate.”


Along with Gosling, St. Joe’s and the Jobs Training program have regularly given opportunities to eight or nine TCTC students. Among them are Chloe Tibbs and Morgan Wall, who both enjoy working in dietary; Aiden Grant, who helps in the dishroom; Ta’Juan Fiffer, who knows where to find everything in central supply; and Mea Wall and Anna Patrick-Dorsey, both in housekeeping.

Morgan Wall, a TCTC student, works with Aubri Crum, a former TCTC student who works in dietary at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Patrick-Dorsey, who says she likes to work wherever she is needed, vacuumed all the hospital entrances during her recent shift.

Mea Wall, whose favorite floor is labor and delivery, says a manager recently mentioned to her an opportunity to work 16 hours a week. She would be eligible for it when she turns 18 in January.

In addition to St. Joe’s Hospital, Wall also gets experience at another community training site for the Jobs program, spending two days a week at Lake Vista in Cortland.

Several of the students have found a home helping in dietary. Palma Yurco supervises and mentors in that department, teaching students to work in the cold prep area, including assembling trays to feed patients three meals a day.

“They’re really good at what they do,” Yurco says. “Once we train them, they do a really good job. I know a few of them would actually like to get a job here and once they turn 18, hopefully that will happen.”

She has put in a good word for a couple of the students she has worked with for more than a year. Some of the students even got the opportunity to work for pay over the summer through a program with the Trumbull County Board of Developmental Disability.

“They are a great help for us,” Yurco says. “Ours is like a busy work. We constantly have to keep making [meals] because the patients keep taking. They’re great for that.”

When they first got to St. Joe’s last year, some of the students admit they felt the same anxiety anyone would starting a new job, volunteer or not.

“I was nervous but now I know what to do,” says Tibbs. “I feel comfortable with the people I’m around. I feel like I’m in a safe environment.”

Zack Wazelle, a former TCTC student and mentor, has worked at St. Joe’s for seven years. He likes the current program.

“It’s nice for them to get hands-on experience, actual job experience,” says Wazelle, who mentors Grant in the dish room. “It gives them a better understanding of how jobs work.”

Gardiner hopes to hire as many of the students as possible. But even if these students decide to work elsewhere, she believes the Jobs Training program is giving them the skills they need to be successful in whatever they do.

“If they choose to do something else, they’ve at least developed really good skills with communication and learning to be accountable in the workplace,” Gardiner says.

“I think they have a level of confidence now that they didn’t necessarily have when they started.”

Pictured at top: Some of those involved in the TCTC jobs program at St. Joseph’s Hospital are (front from left) Morgan Wall and Aiden Grant; and (rear) Marvetta Wells, a mentor; Anna Patrick-Dorsey, Mea Wall, Chloe Tibbs, Eric Gosling, Ta’Juan Fiffer, and Matthew Lukach, TCTC job training coordinator.