Samantha Cox, 22, is extremely excited to start her new internship as a library assistant at St. Cletus Catholic School in La Grange on Oct. 30.
Cox, a Berwyn resident, is one of about 20 adults with disabilities who have been placed in a paid internship with Chicago-area Catholic schools through Teaching Together Chicago, a nonprofit organization that works to help adults with disabilities gain meaningful employment after they graduate from high school.
“This is going to be an excellent experience for me. I’m starting to see that I’ll be a great teacher someday,” said Cox, who hopes to work in a daycare. “I really like meeting new people, and I like the staff I’ll be working with.”
Teaching Together Chicago matches adults with disabilities with schools for a 10-week internship, which would ideally lead to employment. The interns could work in several areas of the school, providing maintenance, library, cafeteria, clerical or classroom help.
Teaching Together Chicago works with local social service agencies that provide job coaching and placement assistance for the interns. The program is funded by the Coleman Foundation, a Chicago-based private nonprofit organization that is committed to improving lives of individuals with developmental disabilities.
Joanne Callahan, director of Teaching Together Chicago, said the program, which began in the Chicago area last year, is a “win-win” for both the school and the intern. Out of the 12 interns the program has placed since last school year, 10 have been hired after their internship ended. The program has placed several more interns this academic year.
“About 24 percent of disabled adults are unemployed. So now the interns are able to contribute and help the school. They get paid and get valuable job experience,” she said. “Parents of the interns have worked so hard to educate their child, and now the interns are ready to show the world their talents and abilities.”
Andrea Smith, Cox’s mother, said she is grateful her daughter has this opportunity.
“No one wants to give disabled adults a chance, so I’m ecstatic about this. ... I can exhale now because you never know what it will be like for an adult with a disability," Smith said. "This job fits her interests because she wants to work with children.”
Kelly Langosch, 24, of Elmhurst had an internship as a library assistant at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park last spring, and she was hired as a part-time assistant in the tutoring center for this academic year. She said she loves working at Nazareth and plans to continue working there while she’s a student at College of DuPage.
“I love how accommodating everyone is, and I like interacting with the students. I feel like the internship program gives people with disabilities a great opportunity to work in a school setting,” she said.
Nazareth Principal Deborah Tracy said she is really enjoying working with Langosch and the Teaching Together Chicago program.
“Kelly brings a great deal of energy combined with a strong work ethic. Her desire to be a part of our Nazareth family is a win-win for everyone,” she said.
Callahan said Teaching Together Chicago targets Catholic schools because they’re generally smaller than public schools, and the schools’ mission fits with the organization’s purpose.
The program has received tremendous support from the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, including Cardinal Blase Cupich, and Callahan is regularly reaching out to Catholic schools to get them involved with the program, she said. In addition to St. Cletus and Nazareth Academy, St. John of the Cross School in Western Springs works with Teaching Together Chicago.
“Our goal is to get at least one intern in every Catholic grade school and high school in the Chicago area,” Callahan said. “After I talk to a school, they’re almost always on board. The interns fill positions where the schools need extra help, and the interns can feel like they’re able to contribute to the world like anyone else.”
For information about Teaching Together Chicago, visit teachingtogetherchicago.org.