‘His place’: Pied Piper students learn on the job

News Photo by Julie Riddle Dawn Nowicki, right, instructs Lucas Gawne in a bay at Cliff Anschuetz Chevrolet in Alpena last week.

ALPENA — For 22-year-old Lucas Gawne, scrubbing a car to an immaculate shine is more than a chore.

The Pied Piper School student – who works three shifts a week washing vehicles for Cliff Anschuetz Chevrolet in Alpena – thrives in a work-based learning program that helps transition students into the community before graduation.

Like other students in the program, Gawne (“Like ‘Gawne with the Wind,’ he said) shows up faithfully, gives his best effort, and takes pride in his work, regardless of the cognitive impairment that brought him to Pied Piper, said Dawn Nowicki, Gawne’s supervisor at the dealership.

Everyone benefits when young people with physical and mental difficulties are welcomed and supported by their community, Nowicki said.

“They succeed when you let them succeed,” she said.

News Photo by Julie Riddle As Pied Piper transition teacher Johanna Evans looks on, Lucas Gawne scrubs a car at Cliff Anschuetz Chevrolet in Alpena last week.

When Gawne began work at the dealership, the business gave him a time card and a shirt with his name embroidered on the front.

Such emblems of inclusion, like Gawne’s interview with business co-owner Jamie Anscheutz-Gohlke, make the unpaid experience real, said Pied Piper transition teacher Johanna Evans.

“This is his place,” Evans said as Gawne carefully washed a car in an Anscheutz bay last week. “His car. His coworker.”

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The business recently signed on to serve as a community partner in the work-based learning program, one of several businesses that have opened their doors to Pied Piper students – and benefited from the partnership, Evans said.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Lucas Gawne scrubs the roof of a car at Cliff Anschuetz Chevrolet in Alpena last week.

While students gain real-world experience stocking shelves, taking inventory, answering phones, and performing other jobs – and learning the importance of showing up on time and completing a task – businesses benefit from the diligence of young people eager to work to the best of their abilities, Evans said.

Gawne, wielding a high-power spray wand, carefully rinsed his car the way Nowicki had taught him.

He loves cars, Gawne said, explaining the specific uses of the soaps and specialty tools he used to make the car gleam.

Pied Piper tries to match students who choose to participate in the program with jobs that fit their passions, said Nikki Geno, job coach for the work-based learning program.

During a student’s first day on the job, Geno sticks close, learning the job at the same time and keeping a close eye on the student’s work.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Pied Piper student Lucas Gawne, second from right, celebrates a freshly-washed car with supporters, from left, Dawn Nowicki, Nikki Geno, Johanna Evans, and Jamie Anscheutz-Goehlke at the Cliff Anschuetz Chevrolet dealership in Alpena last week.

Gradually she backs away, she said, letting them take ownership of their work.

Some students in the program have hired on with their work-based learning business after graduation, Geno said.

At the dealership, Gawne is “one of the guys,” punching in at the beginning of his shift and saying hi to his work buddies. On the job, he feels like he belongs, Geno said.

Anscheutz-Gohlke wholeheartedly recommended that other employers consider getting involved in the program for the satisfaction of seeing young people gain confidence and independence, and to gain dedicated workers ready to work.

A Hillman resident and Hillman High School graduate, Gawne makes sure he gets to work, even on days when school buses aren’t running.

News Photo by Julie Riddle His name embroidered on his work shirt, Pied Piper student Lucas Gawne scrubs a car at Cliff Anschuetz Chevrolet in Alpena last week.

“It makes me feel like a new person,” Gawne said of his job, swiping the car’s hood with a soft cloth. “It makes me feel like I’m more mature. It gives me more skills in the world.”

The worker couldn’t long be distracted from his job of making the car look its very best.

“Could I be more proud of him than he is of himself?” Geno wondered as Gawne carefully inspected the shining car. “I might be.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.


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