Major private grant helps Butler Tech’s special needs program reach rural areas

A recently announced, $200,000 grant from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation is going to help to support Butler Tech’s replication of its home-grown program to help special needs students in rural areas learn life skills for employment and independent living. Pictured are Project LIFE students working at LIFE with Coffee, a student-run coffee shop operated by students as part of their skills training at the D. Russel Lee, Fairfield Township Campus. CONTRIBUTED

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A recently announced, $200,000 grant from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation is going to help to support Butler Tech’s replication of its home-grown program to help special needs students in rural areas learn life skills for employment and independent living. Pictured are Project LIFE students working at LIFE with Coffee, a student-run coffee shop operated by students as part of their skills training at the D. Russel Lee, Fairfield Township Campus. CONTRIBUTED

FAIRFIELD TWP. — A popular and internationally used Butler Tech learning program for special needs teens and young adults has again attracted something beyond attention: A $200,000 grant.

The recently announced, $200,000 grant from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation is going to help to support Butler Tech’s replication of its home-grown program to help special needs students learn life skills for employment and independent living.

And students with special challenges who live in rural areas are the target beneficiaries, said school officials.

It’s the second Mitsubishi grant of more than $200,000 in the last four years and a further, well-funded endorsement of the career school’s pioneering program now being offered in some other career schools outside of Ohio, including some in Canada.

ExploreA unique Butler Tech program is getting attention and will soon go national

The Project LIFE national replication initiative, said Butler Tech officials, “will focus specifically on “Bringing Project LIFE to rural communities.”

This latest grant will help fund a partnership with a Colorado-based organization to assist teenage and young adult students learn how to create “micro-enterprises” through online business and entrepreneurship.

“This unique collaboration will combine the innovative approaches of two extremely skilled and passionate organizations with proven success for supporting youth with disabilities on their journey to greater independence and community employment,” said Reena Fish, Butler Tech Project LIFE® Replication Coordinator.

The combination of Butler Tech’s highly qualified special education transition specialists and Colorado’s Celebrate EDU’s national leadership in business and entrepreneurship education for youth with disabilities will result in the opportunity for all current and future Project LIFE® programs to develop their own quality, student-led micro-enterprise business, Fish said.

This will provide students with disabilities a chance to practice leadership, customer service, marketing, financial literacy and a variety of other skill sets, she said.

The local version of the program, which began at Butler Tech in 2007, now includes 60 students in ages ranging from 18 to 22.

It has since evolved into a multi-year learning continuum of programming that gives students with complex disabilities and their families an opportunity to realize a more independent and successful future for participants.

The Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation first awarded $225,000 in grant funds to Butler Tech in 2018 that was utilized to assist in the launch of their Project LIFE® national replication initiative. These funds aided the start of 22 new programs.

Today, Butler Tech boasts a total of 34 Project LIFE sites with two of those licenses purchased by the River East School Division in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Now, a large portion of this recent grant award will continue to enable Butler Tech to offer a much-reduced licensing cost for 10 school districts in rural regions of the United States, said officials at the Butler County career school system.

Fish said “the employment opportunities available to people with disabilities in these regions are severely lacking and there is a desperate need for education and training to garner the skills necessary for jobs and self-employment.”

“An additional barrier preventing people from gaining employment is the lack of education and training they receive. School districts in rural areas often lack funds due to smaller populations of students. This greatly impacts their ability to develop quality, research-based learning opportunities for their youth with disabilities. This is why we want to offer a reduced Project LIFE® replication cost for school districts in rural areas.”

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