On a chilly Thursday afternoon, Desert Vista High School junior Ava Posta worked contentedly at Pomegranate Cafe in Ahwatukee Foothills, stamping pastry bags and coffee sleeves with the local cafe’s signature pink logo.

Fitting right in with the casual, low-key atmosphere as weekday brunch-goers trickled in, Posta said working at the cafe has prepared her for future work experiences.

“Just working here is fun and I’ve met a lot of different people,” she said just before squeezing fresh orange juice.

Posta is part of the WorkBridge program at Tempe Union High School District. Serving more than 20 students among seven schools in the district, the program aims to transition qualified high school juniors and seniors into post-secondary jobs or service.

Through Individualized Education Plans, each student can work or volunteer in a field they are interested in after graduation and are then paid through district grants for their work.

In addition to the community garden and the cafe, WorkBridge students are placed in preschools, food banks, school cafeterias, resource and fitness centers, libraries, and boutiques.

Posta wants to be a baker after high school, and works at Pomegranate about two hours a week every Thursday and is then taken back to school for the rest of the school day.

“We really enjoy having her here as part of the team,” said Pomegranate owner Cassie Tolman. “The program fits right in with who we are, we support local, we support diversity, acceptance, and love. So it was really just right up our alley.”

Since the semester began last fall, Posta has been working one day a week at the cafe.

“We’re getting to know her in the meantime, so it’s really lovely,” Tolman added.

WorkBridge is available to students meeting some requirements within the district’s seven high schools, and offers a comprehensive range of programming for students with disabilities, according to the district website.

In Tempe, a handful of other students volunteer through WorkBridge at the Harvest for Humanity community garden near Guadalupe and Rural roads.

Prepping for the recent, overnight cold fronts that hit the Valley, students helped cover plants, flowers, vegetables and other produce at the garden while others helped wheelbarrow coffee grounds over to an area for compost.

“I look at WorkBridge as giving them an opportunity to get out there, be part of the community and be part of something,” said WorkBridge teacher Sherri Hoffmann, who oversees students from Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools.

Just before rounding up her group of about five students at the garden, Hoffmann mentioned that parents and the community have been embracing the program.

“Some of my students have just blossomed out here,” added Hoffmann, while looking out around the 2-acre garden. “That’s what it’s all about, giving these students an opportunity to shine, and they always do.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or dmartinez@ahwatukee.com. Follow on Twitter: @_dianamartinez.

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