Senator plans visit to North East campus

Melanie Todd, Staff writer

Pennsylvania State Senator Sean Wiley, D-Erie, will visit Mercyhurst Northeast’s Oasis Program on Monday, Nov. 23.

Senator Wiley supports House Bill 400, Work Experience for High School Students with Disabilities Act, which seeks to aid individuals with developmental disabilities find employment.

“I saw an article written about this bill he supports. I emailed his secretary and that’s how it all got started,” James Conroy, Oasis program director said.

Oasis is a one-year vocational training program for adults with developmental disabilities. Currently, the program offers certificate programs in culinary arts, hospitality, and early childhood education.

“The bill he is supporting supports similar programs to Oasis,” Conroy said.

“The bill supports more inclusive employment for people with developmental disabilities. I want to show him [Senator Wiley] that’s exactly what we strive to do,” Conroy said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 percent of individuals with disabilities were employed in the U.S. in 2014.

“Eighty percent of Oasis graduates are employed. I want to show him [Senator Wiley] we have more and more students taking classes along with degree seeking students without the diagnosis,” Conroy said.

Oasis helps bridge the gap between high school and employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. Oasis strives to teach students skills they will need in life and future employment.

“We help provide internships in the community at local businesses and restaurants,” Conroy said.

The Oasis program continues to grow. Recently, the program received a grant of $60,000 from the Dreams Realized through Educational Aspiration Model Partnership. This grant allowed Oasis to add a residential component to the program.

“If Senator Wiley knows about it, he can spread the word about this program that is right here in his backyard,” Conroy said.

House Bill 400 seeks to partner the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation under the Department of Labor and Industry, with local education officials and public agencies.