Having a purpose brings meaning to life and helps us all thrive and grow. At AWARE, every person we serve has the opportunity to choose how they would like to bring purpose to their days.
The Activity & Employment Training (AET) Program is one such place where the adults AWARE serves can carry out a meaningful life according to their own wants and needs. According to Mike Kopp, AET program director, this setting provides structure and encourages those who attend to work and enjoy daily living.
Clients who go to the AET Program gather at one of the centers in Anaconda, Billings, Butte, Great Falls or Missoula Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. People with developmental disabilities, 18 years and older who live in AWARE’s homes or in the community take part in the program. Program wide, AWARE works with about 85 people who attend one of these centers.
While each center is a little bit different, the week usually includes daily connection, learning and growth activities; community outings; and opportunities for employment. Throughout the week, AWARE’s team supports each individual with work and the other activities they’d like to do.
Connection, Learning and Growth
Starting at 7 a.m., AWARE AET staff help the group home residents get up and moving for the day. By 9 a.m., everyone is out the door and on the way to the AET center.
Mornings are a time when everyone gathers to socialize with peers and their trainers. Mike says that they talk about their day ahead, events that may have occurred during the evening, individual preferences and things that make them excited. At the Anaconda AET center, they call this morning time the ‘Coffee Club.’
After their morning gathering, the day usually transitions into activities and learning that promote healthy lifestyles like healthy eating or different ways to move; life skills like making an emergency call or counting money; creativity like arts and crafts; cognitive activities like games; employment training; or community outings.
Everyone who attends the center is encouraged to participate in employment building skills, if it’s a goal they built into their personal support plan. Work is assigned according to ability and desire. Several of the people AWARE serves are living with purpose through employment in the community or at AWARE.
People who choose to work in the community, for example, work at grocery stores, restaurants or delivering newspapers. AWARE also provides different work opportunities for clients in house such as janitorial work, animal care, greenhouse work, car washing and distribution. All of the people who work receive minimum wage for their labor.
AWARE distribution centers located in Anaconda, Butte, Great Falls, Billings and Missoula provide a unique opportunity for clients. The distribution centers act as a warehouse where AWARE’s group homes can order the food and supplies they need on a weekly basis.
The basic structure of the program includes an AWARE team member working with the clients who want to work at distribution. Together they collect orders from the group homes, order the homes’ requests from the distributors, organize and separate the orders and then deliver.
Distribution provides a learning experience for everyone who chooses to spend time on the clock, including filling orders, inventory, rotating supplies and dusting. Because it is a place that offers work for everyone, a job may be as simple as grabbing a few rolls of toilet paper to help fill an order for a home.
Community outings are also a regular highlight for the AET attendees. The outings are a way for everyone to get out and explore the community and our beautiful state of Montana. Mike says that daily outings may include trips to the store to shop for distribution, a picnic at the park or a holiday party at the bowling alley – among many other options.
In addition, AET attendees are often taken on day trips to places like the zoo and state or county fairs or out of town for a mini road trip. During the summer of 2023, some clients and staff went to Glacier Park while others took a ride to Red Lodge and the Beartooth Pass. Another fun day road trip took them to the Museum of the Rockies. Coming up this fall, everyone is excited to head over to the straw bale maze in Bozeman.
Support AWARE’s AET Program
To learn more about the services AWARE offers, visit www.Aware-inc.org. If you’d like to support the work we do at AWARE that offers purpose to all the people we serve, go to www.Aware-inc.org/donate or www.Aware-inc.org/careers.
Purchase a Fire Starter
Shredding paper is one of the employment opportunities in which AWARE offers a wage as well. Recently, AET attendees in Great Falls started creating fire starters from the paper they shred and dried sage and citronella grown at the Farm in the Falls. The staff turned this new idea into action during the summer. The paper is combined with a scented ignitor that can be used for campfires, wood-burning stoves, etc. Staff say the fire starters are also great to keep in a backpack for hiking.
The sale of the fire starters also goes toward the clients’ wage. Anyone who is interested in purchasing them can order them at 406.563.8117. They are $5 each.