Damien Kasten, 20, is in his first year at the Northside Independent School District’s Nellie M. Reddix Center. The facility is designed to prepare young adults facing mental and physical challenges for a future career.
Kasten, who lives with cerebral palsy, works and attends classes at the Reddix Center.
“I actually want to be kind of like an office worker and inspirational speaker,” Damien said, hoping to one day educate others about his condition.
Like many young adult students at Reddix, he also works part time at HEB and McDonald’s.
The facility provides education and employment training for students 18 to 22 years old who have completed high school. They all face mental difficulties that make it challenging for them to go on to college or enter the workforce after graduating high school.
“It’s the simplest thing of, ‘OK, you have a break and it's 15 minutes. What time do you need to be back?'" said teacher Kim Dahle. “Our kids don’t know that.”
Dahle also teaches students interview skills and how to ride city bus routes to and from work.
The Reddix Center uses NISD buses to take students to on-site job training at places like HEB, Sonic and McDonald’s.
“These are exceptional students who want to be a part of something meaningful, and that’s what we hope to teach them every single day,” said Principal Robin Fields.
Students learn skills such as staying on-task and how to work with others at the center’s on-site printing facility, where students print items for events like weddings, family reunions, schools, businesses and various other organizations.
“When they are challenged, they are productive and contributing just like all of us want to be,” said Fields.
Reddix also educates students ages 3 to 22 who have serious medical needs which require some to be on gurneys or in wheelchairs.
In those classrooms, teachers strive to keep students stimulated by reading to them or using bright colors and sounds and even cooking in the classroom to stimulate their sense of smell.
“There’s a person inside there,” said Fields, “and getting the community to realize that -- no matter what type of disability you have -- you have something to contribute, is very important.”
For Kasten, the Reddix Center is teaching him to become more independent, he says, which he hopes will help him get a full-time job and live on his own.
“Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you should let it stop you.”