Every work experience helps students figure out what kind of employment could be a good fit for them—whether its job shadowing, interning, volunteering. Just ask Luke Johnson, who has recently returned to a volunteer work experience that was interrupted by the COVID pandemic.

 

Returning to a positive work environment

Johnson, age 19, is a transition student in Redmond. He began volunteering at BrightSide Thrift store last year, as part of a Jobs Class rotation. He learned how the thrift store operates, how the departments stay organized for shoppers, and what kind of tasks are involved. Within a few months, he no longer needed help from his job coach, and was working independently at the store.

However, as the COVID pandemic reached Central Oregon, Johnson’s work experience was cut short. It would have been easy to become discouraged, and move on from the volunteer work at BrightSide, but something stuck. During the weeks of stay-at-home guidelines, he realized how much he missed working in one particular area of the store: the books department.

By July, Johnson wanted to get back to the thrift store, and especially back to the books. He turned to his instructor, Hannah Arends, for help. Arends is the YTP Coordinator for the Redmond School District. She credits Johnson for taking initiative and self-advocating. “With his ability to self-direct and focus on the task at hand, we were able to get him back into the volunteer schedule,” Arends said.

 

Staying positive and staying on track

“I like working with the books—especially the kids’ books,” explained Johnson. “And I really like seeing all the friendly faces again. It’s a good team,” he added.

During his shift at the store, he prices and organizes the books, making sure that new books are added in regularly. If questions come up about the work, Johnson doesn’t hesitate to ask for help from the store manager. “She gives me a list of what to get done, and she knows how to explain things to me,” he said.

As Johnson’s job skills have developed, his people skills have increased as well—which can be difficult with social distancing! Arends noted that he is driven by a desire to connect with people. “Luke’s ability to maintain social relationships and friendships has grown greatly,” she said.

In the future, Johnson may look for paid employment related to books, or may volunteer at the library to grow his job skills. But for now, he plans to continue volunteering at BrightSide. He keeps a positive attitude every day by thinking through his task list, and feels good about what he accomplishes each day.

Johnson offered a bit of advice on how to get through difficult times. “Just try to keep your spirits up every day. How do I do that? I just stick to what I have to do, and keep going until everything is done. That’s how I do it,” he said.