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A.D.O.P.T. Partners with School District to Help Young People, Animals

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Lisle TribLocal
Linda Kane
September 15, 2011
In addition to their love for animals, STEPS program participants Rachel Myrna and Randy Mertes enjoy sports. Rachel and Randy won gold medals as bocce partners when they represented the STEPS Special Olympics team, the District 204 Alumni Eagles (photo courtesy of A. Myrna).

Rachel Myrna, 20, is normally quiet, her mother Ann said. That is until someone asks her about one of her loves—the cats at Naperville’s Animals Deserving of Proper Treatment (A.D.O.P.T.) Pet Shelter.

“When she’s doing something she really likes,” Ann said, “her whole presence is more relaxed, and she’s chatty.”

Rachel, who proudly mentions her own 13-year-old cat Alfie, became involved with A.D.O.P.T. while at Waubonsie Valley High School.

A special-needs student, Rachel began receiving support services at age three when she attended Indian Prairie School District (IPSD) 204’s early childhood preschool program. Special services continued throughout elementary school, middle school and high school.

While attending Waubonsie Valley, Rachel, with her family’s help, formulated a “vision statement.” The statement “drives the student’s programming in the areas of academics, job training and life skills,” Ann said.

Rachel’s vision? To work with animals.

Rachel’s partnership with A.D.O.P.T.’s feline population was, ah, pure purr-fection.

After graduation from Waubonsie Valley, Rachel entered District 204’s STEPS (Supported Training Experiences Post Secondary) program, which will assist her until her 22nd birthday.

STEPS, an acronym coined by District 204, uses “the community as [a] classroom,” according to the district website. Almost 40 local businesses participate as community training sites, A.D.O.P.T. being one of them.

The STEPS program, which has existed for 14 or 15 years, “supports the transition from high school life to adult life,” said Sharon Kickel, an IPSD STEPS vocational coordinator.

“[A.D.O.P.T. is] very flexible, very supportive of all students [and] absolutely wonderful [to work with],” Kickel said.

Donna Picard, A.D.O.P.T.’s Humane Education services coordinator, said A.D.O.P.T.’s partnership with the STEPS program has allowed A.D.O.P.T as an organization to “give back to our community. Partnering with STEPS gives us the ability to reach out and help another great organization.

“The [young adults] are wonderful to work with, and while the goal is to teach them life skills, it is also amazing to see how they connect with the animals.”

Because of her love for animals, Rachel tried job training at area pet stores with the help of the STEPS staff. But the jobs involved basic retail tasks, such as straightening products on shelves and performing light cleaning, her mom said.

“It was good for Rachel to have these experiences because they helped her understand that she didn’t want to work IN a pet store; she wanted to work WITH pets, “ Ann said.

Rachel says her favorite part of working at A.D.O.P.T. is socializing with the animals. Ann confirms that her daughter loves talking to the cats and often sits on the couch in A.D.O.P.T.’s sunroom, one cat asleep on her chest, another on her lap.

“A.D.O.P.T. has the [cats] in a free-range environment rather than in cages,” Rachel’s mom said. “You can totally interact with them. That’s why A.D.O.P.T. has been so important for Rachel, because of the interaction with the animals.”

Also enjoying his time at A.D.O.P.T., but on the canine side of the building, is STEPS program student Randy Mertes, a good friend of Rachel’s. Randy, too, started volunteering at A.D.O.P.T. while at Waubonsie Valley.

Randy, who has his own dog at home, says he enjoys working at the shelter and plans to help there well into his adult years. Allergic to cats, Randy spends most of his time washing the dogs’ dishes, doing the dogs’ laundry, cleaning the dogs’ kennels, and naturally, his favorite, socializing with the dogs.

“We appreciate A.D.O.P.T.’s willingness to open its doors and hearts to support individuals with disabilities in pursuing their dreams and fulfilling their passions as related to working with and around animals,” Randy’s mother Sheila said.

Picard says it works both ways. “The kids learn and find value in what they are doing, and the animals get additional love and attention,” she said.

Kickel, too, praises both young people “[Rachel and Randy] are very dedicated to working with animals,” she said. They have a genuine love for this type of work and are sweet and well-mannered individuals.”

But maybe Picard summed it up best. “It’s a win-win [for all of us],” she said.

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