Students volunteer while preparing for the future

Tony Pettiway, left, leaned against the fruits and vegetables window at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, waiting for clients to come down the line. Pettiway is part of the JCPS Transition to Work program and volunteers at the food pantry once a week. He worked the window Feb. 16 with John Weaver, a pantry volunteer from St. Albert the Great Church. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

On Thursdays, a group of three or four students rides a TARC bus from the J. Graham Brown School to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, 415 E. St. Catherine St., to volunteer for the morning.

Ronniesha Thomas fluffed plastic bags while volunteering Feb. 16 at St. Vincent de Paul’s Food Pantry. Thomas is part of the JCPS Transition to Work program. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

The students are part of the Jefferson County Public Schools Ahrens Work Transition Program, which operates within the school system’s Functional Mental Disability program. 

Anita Pelle, the JCPS instructional assistant who accompanies the students each week, said the program gives students the experience they need to gain paid employment.

“They work on more than job skills,” she said Feb. 16 at the food pantry. “They’re getting social skills and soft skills from being in the community. They know to come in and hang up their coats, get a snack and get started. They learn how to take instructions from someone who isn’t their teacher.”

Two of the students, Ronniesha Thomas and Brendan Bailey, separated, fluffed and filled plastic grocery bags with canned goods to be given to St. Vincent de Paul clients.

Bailey said he likes what he does at the food pantry and will be ready for a job next year. He’s hoping to land a place at the Omni Hotel in downtown Louisville, where he already spends time volunteering as part of the program.

“I’m a good worker and learning good skills,” he said.

Brendan Bailey, left, and Ronniesha Thomas volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul’s Food Pantry on Thursdays as part of JCPS’s Work Transition Program. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

Another student, Tony Pettiway, spent his time at the fruits and vegetables window, handing out produce to clients.

“I prefer the window because I can talk to the customers,” he said. “I’ve met people and made friends here.”

At the window, he chatted and laughed with John Weaver, a parishioner of St. Albert the Great Church who has volunteered at the food pantry for almost a year.

“I think it’s good,” Weaver said of the program. “They’re nice and polite. I think it’s a great program for these kids to come down here and learn while volunteering.”

Pelle said the program has partnered with St. Vincent de Paul since the 2021-2022 school year. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the volunteer sites that the Work Transition Program partnered with, such as hospitals, stopped accepting volunteers.

So Pelle, a parishioner of St. Peter the Apostle Church, gave St. Vincent de Paul a call.

“They’ve been great,” said Pelle. “They’re super open to what we do.”

The Work Transition Program has 32 students who volunteer each week at more than a dozen community sites.

Tony Pettiway, right, and John Weaver chatted near the fruit and vegetable window at St. Vincent de Paul’s Food Pantry Feb. 16. Pettiway is part of JCPS’s Work Transition Program and Weaver is a pantry volunteer from St. Albert the Great Church. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)
Kayla Bennett
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Kayla Bennett
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