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CRYSTAL RIVER - On most weekday mornings, CREST students Becca Gill, Catherine Eckert and Megan Baxter put on their scrubs and head to Crystal River Health and Rehab.
They’re each assigned a wing of the facility, where they’re responsible for cleaning hand rails, transporting residents to activities or to meals, delivering mail, setting tables in the dining room and anything else they’re asked to do.
“I like what I do,” said Becca Gill. “My favorite part is the residents. They make things easy for me.”
The young women are part of the CREST — Citrus Resources for Exceptional Students in Transition — transition team school-to-work program for students in between graduating from high school and “aging out” at age 22.
Within the next month or two, Gill, who turns 21 on March 31, will begin an apprenticeship in the housekeeping department at the rehab facility, with the goal of “real” employment when she turns 22 and leaves the CREST program.
“We’ll start her off one or two days a week where she’ll learn to make a bed and things like that,” explained CREST job coach Joni Kirschner, who stays with the students at the job site.
Not all the special-needs students will find employment, Kirschner said.
“For those who don’t get hired, we encourage them to find a place to volunteer,” she said. “They can still use the skills they learn in this program.”
Anita Marshall, Crystal River Health and Rehab activities director, said the facility has already hired one or two transitional students, one who has been a dishwasher for five years.
“They’re here during the week and they help in our housekeeping department, they serve residents at our morning coffee shop, they do lotion rubs and read poetry, take people outside for strolls. It’s intergenerational, too. The residents really like being with them.”
On Thursday, before they started working, the three young women from CREST sat in the dining room among a group of residents listening to a gospel music trio, singing along, talking to the older people. That’s all part of the program, learning to relate with people, to look them in the eye and speak clearly.
“It’s great training for them,” Marshall said. “They get real-life work skills in a real-world environment, so when they’re 22 and age out of the program, they can get a job and they won’t have to depend on government assistance the rest of their lives.”
Gill said she’s excited about one day working “for real.”
“I’ll be getting a paycheck,” she said. “It’s going in the bank.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or email@example.com.