District 15 students deliver meals, learn job skills

They lined up with the rest of the Meals on Wheels volunteers in the kitchen of Camilia Rose Care Center, Coon Rapids, but they are there to learn.

Transition 15 students Joe Law and Dylan Say-Pike wait at the door to deliver a Meals on Wheels dinner to a Coon Rapids resident. The pair, who are autistic, are learning basic job skills by volunteering for the program. Photo by Tammy Sakry
Transition 15 students Joe Law and Dylan Say-Pike wait at the door to deliver a Meals on Wheels dinner to a Coon Rapids resident. The pair, who are autistic, are learning basic job skills by volunteering for the program. Photo by Tammy Sakry

The two young men were eager to deliver meals to elderly residents, but Dylan Say-Pike and Joe Law are part of Transition 15, which helps students with disabilities in the St. Francis School District 15 transition to adult life.

While many of the program’s 17 to 19 students work retail, office and restaurant jobs, the Meals on Wheels program is teaching Say-Pike and Law, who both have autism, basic entry level job skills, said Judi Schmitt, Transition 15 teacher and job coach.

“It is just ideal for what we need,” she said.

Working with the Coon Rapids-Blaine Meals on Wheels for the last six years, the Transition 15 program has been able to train the students and when they demonstrate they are up to a more challenging situation, they are placed in a work setting.

Law, who has communication issues, has recently started working at Metro Dental pulling patient files.

Four days a week, Law and Say-Pike travel to the nursing home and pick up meals for clients in Coon Rapids.

“We love having them,” said Marie Rudstrom, Coon Rapids-Blaine Meals on Wheels director.

They were really shy, but over the school year they have started to interact more and become more outgoing, she said.

“The clients really like them.” Rudstrom said.

Working with Meals on Wheels also gives Transition 15 the opportunity to bring in a substitute student if one of the kids calls in sick, unlike a retail or restaurant job, Schmitt said.

“We have the flexibility to switch them or they can take days off with the school schedule,” she said.

The kids can also continue to deliver meals in the summer, Schmitt said.



The first stop on the students’ April 5 route is to a single-family home.

Law gets out of the van, driven by a job coach, and presents the meal to the waiting client.

“I like delivering to the elderly people, because they have confidence in us,” Law said.

When he started working with Meals on Wheels last year, “I was a little nervous at first,” he said.

Say-Pike was also nervous.

“I was very nervous because I did not know any of the people on the route. Now I’m comfortable with them,” he said.

“Giving people their meals is the best part,” Say-Pike said.

The next five stops are at two Coon Rapids apartment buildings, including Jerry Naylor’s apartment unit.

“They are good kids. They are polite, which is different,” Naylor said.

When the pair started delivering his meals about year ago, Naylor thought maybe they were doing community service by court order.

“But now, I don’t think they were ever in trouble,” he said.

“They are very good and always on time.”


The students

Both Law and Say-Pike are high functioning autistic, but their challenges are very different.

Autism looks different in everyone, Schmitt said.

Law, who will be graduating from the program this year, has socialization issues and becomes pre-occupied with certain things.

When he started in the program, Law carried with him a large Disney book and a book of word finds, Schmitt said.

His focus was on those books, which made it difficult for Law to focus on other things, like learning work skills and class work, she said.

“We have got him to the point where he only carries pocket size books with him,” Schmitt said.

“(Law) is a whole lot better now. He really likes working with Meals on Wheels and he has just started a job at Metro Dental pulling patient records, filing, clerical stuff on Tuesday and Thursdays for two hours.”

Working with Meals on Wheels, Law has become comfortable with routine because he has got to know the clients and he is working with a friend, Schmitt said.

But Law is not comfortable with everything in his life.

If Law was asked to go into Burger King on his own and order a burger, “I don’t know that he could without having someone there to assist him with communications,” Schmitt said.

Working with Meals on Wheel has helped desensitize him to stressful situations and has provided him experience with communication, socialization and work tasks, she said.

Although Say-Pike is also high functioning, his communication issues and social challenges are different than Law’s.

Say-Pike perceives things very differently and he makes a lot of random comments about things that are just a little off, Schmitt said.

“And he repeats things over and over,” she said.

As part of his learning plan, Say-Pike is working on reducing the amount of random comments, making more eye contact and social skills, Schmitt said.

Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]