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CREST students gain real-world skills through on-the-job program

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By Chris Van Ormer

For people who like to shop, working in a store can be an ideal job. And that’s what it is for Megan Ledford.

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“I love it,” Megan said Monday of her assignment that takes her to Key Training Center’s Crystal River Super Thrift Store five days a week with other students from CREST School in Lecanto.

Each student takes care of a specific department in the store.

“We sort clothes. We make sure everything’s nice and neat. We help customers,” Megan said, describing her duties. “If we don’t know something, we ask.”

Recent graduates of CREST — Citrus Resources for Exceptional Students in Transition — Megan, Cassie Low and Travis Dukeman have joined the school’s Transition Team, a program that gives them job experience. CREST, which opened in 1994, helps students from kindergarten through 12th grade overcome physical as well as learning disabilities and helps them master living skills.

Megan Ledford said she looks forward to going to work.

“Every morning when I get up I say, ‘Yay! Let’s get ready,” she said.

Every morning, when he starts work, Travis pushes cartloads of merchandise around the store. He hangs up clothes.

“I put things away,” Travis said. 

All the donations are sorted and organized on the showroom floor for customers to find. The U.S. 19 facility is one of three Key Training Center thrift stores in the county. Proceeds from the stores help fund projects and job training for people with developmental disabilities. 

“I sort baby clothes and the shoes and the magazines and the plus-size women’s and the games and puzzles,” Cassie said. “And sometimes the movies.”

With donations coming through the back door, all hands are needed to put items in place in the shopping area. First, the donations are organized in the back. Then they are pushed out in carts or carried by the armful to their designated spaces.

The work helps the students learn to get along with people and gain self-confidence.

“The first time, I was like: ‘I don’t know …’ ” Megan said. 

When a customer asks her a question, Megan has learned to give an answer if she can or, otherwise, find the answer.

“Sometimes we know it, sometimes we need help,” she said. 

At the end of their work day, the students return to CREST and prepare to go home. With the holiday break coming, students have plenty to look forward to at school.

“Tomorrow, Santa’s coming,” Megan said. 

“I brought Christmas cookies for you all,” Cassie said.

Cassie splits her work week between the thrift store and Crystal River Health and Rehab. Other Transition Team students work at a Habitat for Humanity thrift store and at Belk in the Crystal River Mall. Another group goes to the Family Resource Center a couple of days a week.

At the thrift store, students are useful in keeping the merchandise tidy in the men’s and women’s boutiques after customers have looked at things. 

“Sometimes they do vacuuming and dusting,” said their job coach, Martina Hopkins.

“We have to make sure that the shoes have the price on them,” Cassie said.

“There are a lot of little things that the students do every day,” Hopkins said.

“Sometimes at the weekend, I come in here with Momma to shop,” Megan said. “So I get to see everything before she does.” 

Each student then returned to the assigned areas and got right back to work straightening clothes on racks, pairing the shoes and hanging up shirts. Everything was put back in order.

Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be reached at cvanormer@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2916.