Kathy Cipresso welcomed a group of Ahwatukee high schoolers into her business on Valentine’s Day, offering them a chance to learn work skills and leave with a holiday-themed gift.
Cipresso, owner of Kathy’s Alterations in Ahwatukee, hosted five Mountain Pointe students to craft Valentine’s Day heart-shaped pillows.
The students of varying abilities learned to thread a needle, sew fabric together, stuff the pillow with cotton and end with a personalized present to bring home to their loved ones.
Cipresso said she loves volunteering and is constantly searching for ways to give back to the community.
Her nephew suffered brain damage over 30 years ago in a car accident, which gives her a personal connection to those who need extra help in becoming ready for employment after school.
She has a long connection with the special education teachers in the community, so allowing the instructors and their students into her shop seemed like a perfect match.
“I have this skill, and I know it’s something that these kids can learn and have fun doing. So, I figured, ‘Why don’t I reach out to them?’ Now, here we are,” Cipresso said.
The Tempe Union High School District WorkBridge program has been around for decades at area high schools, helping those most needy with the tools to find jobs after graduation.
WorkBridge instructors go to Desert Vista High in the morning and Mountain Pointe High in the afternoon, teaching kids of differing abilities skills applicable to the workforce.
In class, special education instructors like Elizabeth Elston teach the students interview techniques, resume crafting and a variety of other professional skills to secure a job after high school.
They also take trips nearly every day to learn applicable work skills in the community. Regular stops include shelving DVDs and CDs at the library, cleaning golf balls and carts at the Ahwatukee Country Club, bagging groceries at Safeway and special projects like bagging personal hygiene items for female prisoners with Women4Women Tempe.
The excursions are like regular field trips. The students enjoy themselves but also feel like they are being productive as well, Elston said.
“They love going out to work, and they work hard when they’re there. It is something they look forward to every day,” Elston said.
The WorkBridge instructors are always looking for more skills the kids can learn in their years with the program. That Cipresso had experience with kids of different abilities and that the students got to take home a handmade craft to their families was a bonus.
“It’s special that she reached out to us, opening up her business and using her skills, and that she is so trusting of our group to come in and work,” Elston said.
Demonstrating sewing techniques, like measuring string from their inner cheek to their outstretched arm, took plenty of patience for Cipresso, but she smiled the whole time helping the students.
Her favorite part of volunteering with kids of different abilities is seeing their sense of accomplishment when they finish a task.
She hopes that the experience is one they remember for years to come, but also that it will entice other companies in the area to reach out to the WorkBridge program as well.
“I love being able to volunteer and give back to the school and community anyway. I’m hoping other businesses that have skills the kids can do can see this, and then give even more opportunity to the students,” Cipresso said.
“We love our Ahwatukee community, and everyone is so supportive of each other,” Elston added, “I hope that we can get this out there that these kids want to help, and they want to learn, so that everyone can benefit.”