Laradon School is far from a traditional institution, and it provided a volunteer experience unlike any other. Recently, three of us from BridgeView IT spent a day conducting mock interviews with their students, and we found ourselves participating in one of our most rewarding Karma Days yet.
Opened in 1948, Laradon’s mission is to provide superior, individualized services to children and adults with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities while supporting their independence in daily life and maximizing their full potential. This was the very first charitable organization in the entire Rocky Mountain region with such a focus and is now the largest and most diverse organization of its kind in Colorado. Over 600 students pass through its doors each year, getting the opportunity to work directly with occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, social workers, healthcare providers, and other experts.
While fundraising and donating money is important, we approached Laradon to see how we might be able to provide deeper support. Since the school is focused on helping developmentally disabled students become functional citizens and obtain jobs, we saw an opportunity for applying our expertise in hiring. It was decided that we would work with students between 16 and 17 years old and help them prepare for future job interviews.
Conducting Mock Interviews
Our day began with training with a volunteer program director and safety coordinator to educate us on the school’s procedures. Then, we went into a class of ten students, each of them with an adult partner in the form of a counselor, teacher, or helper. After a presentation explaining why we were there and what mock interviews entail, we headed to conference rooms so we could interact with the students individually.
It was nothing short of inspiring to sit down with these children and discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and dreams. Despite varying levels of communication skills, we were able to have a productive mock interview with everyone. It was particularly heartwarming to see the positive power of technology when one heavily developmentally disabled student was able to use an iPad to communicate with us.
The students expressed many different aspirations. One desired to work at Target, and we discussed the concept of customer service with him. Others sought to work in childcare, Pizza Hut, and veterinary clinics, which proved fun subjects for conversation. Another memorable student was highly focused on his body language, asking if he could restart the interview to improve his handshake, eye contact, and posture.
Several of the mock interviews veered away from their original intent, but even those moments were both touching and productive. We discussed the concept of saving money with one girl who talked about her piggy bank and the desire to open a bank account. Several students also talked about their emotions, showing exactly how insightful and thoughtful they truly were.
As much as we assisted those kids in preparing for their futures, they made a bigger impact on us. The feeling of what it’s like to truly help another human being and the reminder of what’s important in life won’t fade anytime soon.
Reflecting on a Day at Laradon
Laradon’s founders believed that with the proper education, training, and support, people with disabilities can contribute to the community and become valued members of society. Employment is a chief way to accomplish that, and it was wonderful to help further that vision. In fact, during the 70-year history of the school, no volunteers had come to interact with students in the way that we did. It was humbling to pioneer their mock interview process and refreshing to dig into the heart of a charity’s purpose. We encourage Laradon to keep up the great work, and we look forward to volunteering again in the future!