$500K grant aids students with disabilities 

By Haley Thierry

Youngstown State University’s Excellence Training Center, in partnership with the Columbiana County Education Service Center, received a $500,000 grant to help students with disabilities.

The grant provides services and trains students at the ETC to prepare them for the workforce. It focuses on current high schoolers with developmental disabilities who graduated between 2020-22 academic years. 

Jackie Ruller, director of the ETC, said the project will secure students a stronger future.

“The disabilities grant — the $500,000 that we got — that’s specifically to help train folks with developmental disabilities and to get them training so that they can get a good-paying job,” Ruller said.

Shirley Bowald, employment and community inclusion manager for the Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said the grant provides help to students with disabilities through scholarship opportunities.

“The money is going towards scholarships for these programs and classes through the excellence training center so that students can obtain industry recognized credentials,” Bowald said.

Bowald explained how students can determine if they qualify for the project after graduation and are looking to get employed.

“We are just looking for students who might be on an IEP, or a 504 plan, through their school. This also includes recent graduates since 2020, and so we are just looking to contact those students who are looking to move into community employment,” Bowald said.

Bowald said the initial goals for the partnership were to help students get a variety of workforce- related credentials.

“To provide opportunities for students with disabilities and those who have recently graduated to obtain what they call ‘industry recognized credentials.’ And that would include a whole host of IT related, manufacturing related, other types of business-related credentials that somebody could present and be ready to be hired,” Bowald said.

Kitty Kromer, employment services coordinator for Columbiana County Education Service Center, said the grant gives participating students access to resources for job preparation.

“The major thing is that it opens up training opportunities that were not well known or available before. So, a person can now get training in more technical areas, and also receive certifications,” Kromer said. 

Kromer said the best part of her job is being able to work with the students while providing the help they need.

“I enjoy seeing the success of students as they move from school to the real world and also through opportunities for Ohioans with disabilities [to] work with people all the way up to age 65,” Kromer said.

Bowald said the grant has aided the community and is beneficial moving into the workforce. 

“It’s important for everyone to feel like they can maximize their potential, they can live up to what they want to do, they can follow their strengths into the workforce,” Bowald said.