The opening week for our pilot Dream BIG Career Camp was this past June 12-15. It proved to be a great success! Each day was filled with engaging and educational activities for students to participate, aimed specifically at inclusion and Independent Living.

Throughout the week, the SDI staff of Steve Foelsch, Molly Dwyer, and Sarah Schwegel also touched on topics such as disclosure, reasonable accommodations, and making the best choices for college and curricula.

Starting Monday, the Career Camp participants visited Cortex Innovation Center. They toured the complex and met with Boeing Ventures, Centene and Cortex Entrepreneurs. The activities for that day focused on team building and understanding yourself. Students took the True Colors interest inventory, and then worked in groups to do team building exercises.

Express Scripts hosted the Camp on Tuesday. We learned from their Diversity and Inclusion team, as well as their Talent Sourcing team. Volunteers and students discussed disability pride and college readiness.

Wednesday was spent at Monsanto. The group learned about the company, and spent about an hour getting to know people from different departments across the business. Very little time was spent together as a group.  Rather, the students partook in an activity with blank puzzle pieces that demonstrated the need to work with our peers as a group. The puzzle activity also taught the students how to advocate for themselves. At the end of the day the group took a fantastic tour of the research center, and extracted DNA from strawberries–a big hit!

Thursday, campers visited Nestle Purina. We toured the Retail Innovation Center, and learned all about Purina History. We also did some group work focusing on problem solving and persuasion.  We then toured the Nestle “Barkyard” before lunch.

Friday was fantastic! The day started at Centene. Brandon Morris, a Starkloff Career Academy alumni and Centene employee, talked about what it is like to work while having a disability. Centene Executive Leadership members Shannon Bagley and Michael Monson also came to greet the students. They were joined by Alishea Johnson and a panel of former interns who are now Centene employees – Sid Sridhar, Neil Abegg, Chan Chan Yan, Miki Jones and Brandon Morris. They all shared their backgrounds and answered questions from the group.

The students then walked to the Forsyth MetroLink station, where they were greeted by Bi-State Development Agency President and CEO, John Nations. He gave them an overview of the Metro Transit System and its role in connecting people and places.

While riding the train to Busch Stadium together, Metro Transit COO Ray Friem gave the Dream BIG students an in-depth presentation. They heard from representatives from the St. Louis Cardinals front office, the departments of Human Resources, Cardinals Care, Communications and Sales & Marketing.  The team made the presentation to the campers in front of the famous press room wall, and afterwards answered many questions from the excited participants.

The Dream BIG campers were then treated to an exclusive tour of Busch Stadium, where knowledgeable tour guides continued to answer questions about history and accessibility throughout the stadium.  Afterwards, parents joined us at Busch Stadium for a wrap-up presentation and awarding of certificates.

Students and parents alike thought the program was beneficial. Peter, one of the students who graduated high school in May said, “I’ve enjoyed the Dream Big program this week because it allowed me to explore the many different job opportunities offered at different companies and corporations around St. Louis for people with disabilities and for internships too. Overall, I had an enjoyable week meeting new people and getting to see and explore these companies.”

Parents also thought the Career Camp was a great success. One parent stated: “I think it helped him [my son] realize that people and employers are interested in him and how he can contribute to the organization”.

The response from the Dream BIG pilot summer campers was very positive, with great responses from each one.

Jesse, a student at Parkway North, said “The only problem with Dream BIG is that it’s only a week long!”

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