Students With Special Needs Work To Clean Up State Parks

Working for the summer, working for their future. Students with special needs are getting out and working to keep State Parks clean and orderly over the busy months.

If you have been to a Michigan State Park this summer, you have probably seen the army of neon green shirts. They are workers with special needs, getting first-hand work experience with the DNR and making a little pocket cash over the summer.

“It’s a lot of fun, you get to know your coworkers and work well,” says Billy Ludahl, a worker from Ferry Township, “You get to work well along with the DNR up at the parks.”

It’s a program put together by the Department of Natural Resources and local school districts. Students get out and learn a work ethic while earning some money and the state gets help keeping the parks clean.

“Cleaning benches, we’ve been picking up garbage off the beach, been cleaning the bathrooms and the showers,” says Ludahl.

More than 40 state parks participated this summer, employing more than 175 students. They make minimum wage but more importantly learn what a hard day’s work feels like.

“They like it. I’ll say are you tired at the end of the day and they say absolutely,” says Theresa Root, transition coordinator for West Shore ESD, “They just go home and crash.”

“Yeah, most the time I just take a nap when I get home,” says Ludahl.

The program isn’t for every student but the ones that do make the cut, are some of the most dedicated workers in the park and they like it that way. They feel wanted and needed. A few have spun this program into full-time jobs with the park, setting up their future.

“It’s having purpose and they carry that into their adult life,” says Root, “That’s what transition is all about. We are preparing students to leave the school system and have the kind of life they want to have and that includes work.”

For Ludahl, he plans to be back next summer but until then, he has bigger plans.

“I’m going to college for culinary,” says Ludahl, “I enjoy cooking at home with my grandparents.”