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The PACE Program

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Jacob walked to home base with bat in hand and the feeling of May sweat falling down his forehead. The crunch of the dirt under his shoes grinded to a halt as he raised his bat, ready to hit the ball. He gripped the bat and brought his focus to the pitcher. The pitcher lined up the ball and threw it underhand toward the batter. The metal bat cracked as the ball impacted it. The ball soared down center field over the heads of the outfielders while making a slow descent into the outfield. The ball thumped as it hit the ground. Jacob couldn’t believe it, his knees grew weak as he tried to run from base to base. He couldn’t believe it, it was something he always wanted. He wanted to fall down out of excitement but he kept running. It was a home run.

   Jacob is apart of the PACE program at LVA, which is a program that helps disabled young adults learn to be competitively employable. Jacob is on the spectrum of autism and Mr. Mills and the PACE program have helped him overcome his struggles. Mr. Mills teaches the students a variety of skills including: how to create and maintain an email, how to fill out job applications and how to perform in an interview.

   In Nevada the students are only allowed to be in the program until they turn 21. For Jacob, this is his last year in the program. During their school day the students help the janitors clean the cafeteria and the theaters and they work in the student store at lunch. Mr. Mills and his aid Ms. Zahiroric teach the students life lessons like how to split the bill at a restaurant and how to take public transportation.

   “Watching the kids excel in the program is gratifying but at the same time there is a lot of pressure because if I don’t teach them something who else is going to?” said Mr. Mills.

   Jacob gets to learn how to use the cash register in the student store but he also helps stock the racks, clean and let people in. In the program the students have the opportunity to work off campus too. Mr. Mills has partnered with places like Subway, Jason’s Deli, and the VA hospital so the students are able to get a variety of work experience. At the VA hospital Jacob was able to work in the canteen, the patient’s store of the hospital. There he washed dishes, cleaned tables, and did the laundry.

   “It kinda got tiring but I got used to it,” Jacob said.

   Jacob started the program two years ago after he graduated from Valley high school. Jacob and his mom looked into the program after he graduated and Jacob decided to participate in the program because there were no tests.

   Throughout the two years Jacob has been apart of the program, Mr. Mills has seen him grow socially and emotionally but Jacob still struggles to stay motivated to work.

   “[The PACE program is] something for me to do that keeps me out of the house, and I’m not bothering my mom,” Jacob said with a big smile.

   Jacob enjoys working on the cash register during lunch and when he has a job that he finds entertaining.

   “Jacob has a greater sense of accomplishment and acceptance. The LVA PACE program has shown that not all people and students view him as different,” said Jacob’s mom, Alethea.

   She believes that the program has helped Jacob find a sense of self worth, along with all the other students in the program. Jacob also used to struggle with making friends but the program has helped him meet new people.  Mr. Mills works tirelessly with these kids to make sure that they will have the skills to have the same opportunities as everyone else. He tries to help everyone in the program overcome their struggles and help them move on from them. Jacob has talked about getting a job often but he is not interested in custodial or food services, said Alethea.

   Jacob dreams of becoming a baseball player despite what anyone says and even though he used to get teased by the other boys on his league, his passion for baseball prevailed. He became interested in baseball when he watched The Sandlot, which is now his favorite movie. Jacob has played baseball since he was 8 years old, and to this day he continues to play on a challenger league. Two weeks ago he made another home run when he played with his team at Silverado Ranch.

   “I was very confused,” he said, “I didn’t know why everyone was cheering for me when they had never cheered for me before.”

   Jacob is starting to get bored with his league. He feels that they don’t share the same enthusiasm for the sport as he does. Mr. Mills said, “I hope to see Jacob become competitively employable in the future.”

   Mr. Mills’ passion for this program and the students in the program is inspiring. He has a philosophy that the students will only ever achieve what they are expected to. He thinks that sometimes the bar for them can be set too low and tries to challenge them to do better everyday. After a student out grows the program Mr. Mills thinks of them aging out as a baton race.

   “I like to make sure that someone else has them before I let go,” he said.  Mr. Mills educates the families about other organizations, like Opportunity Village and Desert Regional Centers. These other programs will continue to work with the students after they can not stay at PACE. For the future, Mr. Mills would like to focus on partnering with businesses in the community to give the students more work experience off campus. There are also building trade unions, that are building a small house for a veteran, that Mr. Mills wants the kids to be apart of next year. He wants to teach the students more about home living skills, for example the difference between ‘wants and needs’ and how to contribute to the family after having a job.    

   Alethea said, “I am so grateful for the teacher, Mr. Mills. He cares and truly works to help our children succeed. He goes above and beyond to help our children feel worthwhile and accomplished.”


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The PACE Program