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12-9-16 — Free Service Helps Businesses, Students with Special Needs

Dec. 9, 2016 ~ On any given day, a visitor to the district's Alternative Work Experience classroom may see boxes of Applebee's nametags, bags of small O-rings, and stacks of letters waiting to be folded and inserted into envelopes. The visitor may also hear the steady buzz of a paper shredder or the soft click of labels being pulled from their backing sheet.

The Alternative Work Experience, known by most of its clients as A.W.E., provides job training for students with special needs and fills a void for several area businesses that have repetitive work projects. A.W.E. also does a variety of projects for the school district, individual teachers and support staff in the schools.

"We serve students from all four Olathe School District high schools, and we'll expand to encompass Olathe West next fall," center-based resource facilitator Amanda Honaker said. "Our students are transported to the work center during the school day, and typically work for one or two hours before returning to school."

In addition to high school students, some graduates also help at A.W.E. because their Individualized Education Program (IEP) calls for more job skill training after completing their academic coursework. Some students can be assigned to work at Olathe business sites and improve their skills with on-the-job training.

While in the center, students learn to master a variety of tasks under the supervision of Dan Mulvenon, job coach. Jobs cover a wide range of skills and students do a variety of jobs based on their skill level. A short list of their recent jobs includes:

  • Twisting wires on trouble tickets used by railroad engineers
  • Installing O-rings on small components for a local manufacturer
  • Assembling magnetic calendars for a local Realtor and preparing the calendars for mailing
  • Assembling 3,500 letters for a non-profit organization, including inserting multiple pieces into an envelope, sealing the envelopes and placing wrap-around labels on the front and back of the envelopes in just four days
  • Die-cutting and collating 2,000 4-inch circles for a school project
  • Preparing goodie bags for an Olathe Northwest Project Graduation fundraiser
  • Loading prizes into plastic eggs for an area dental office
  • Processing discarded district library books before they are donated to Books KC or destroyed because of their condition

Cole Bonham of Midwest Engravers is a regular client of the A.W.E. program and plans to keep sending projects their way. His father drives for Assisted Transportation which makes regular stops at A.W.E., so he served as a liaison when Midwest Engravers need help assembling more than 190,000 name tags for Applebee's.

"My father talked with Dan Mulvenon about the task and thought it would be a great project for the kids at A.W.E.," Bonham said. "The students were an incredible asset to the project and to this day probably have no idea how much of an assistance they were in completing such an overwhelming project."

Bonham's employees cut the wood backing and plastic front for the name tags, and put an adhesive strip on one piece before shipping the components to A.W.E. They also created assembly boards to help students assemble 25 tags at a time, like building a jigsaw puzzle.

"I look forward to maintaining a continued relationship with A.W.E. and appreciate everything it stands for," Bonham said. "It is my stance as a small business owner that we need to take care of each other, through supporting other small businesses, or those in our community, and was happy to have A.W.E. as a part of our project!"

Another A.W.E. client is the district's Graphic Communications Department and its steady work of cutting, collating, stapling, etc.

Manager Erica Derrington said her department sends project to A.W.E. throughout the school year, and even during summer.

"The students can pretty much do the odds and ends our machines can't do and it saves us hours of work we can put toward other rush needs," she said. "I love this service! I feel like it's an extension of our print shop because they are there when we need them."

Derrington sees her department's relationship with A.W.E. as a win-win situation.

"The A.W.E. program has a wonderful group of students and caring staff," she said. "The staff members double-check the work to make sure it's done properly and the A.W.E. students gain experience."

Area business owners or district employees interested in receiving assistance from the Alternative Work Experience program should contact Dan Mulvenon at or 913-780-7067.