Career Explorations Program thrives at Wayfinder Schools

Posted on Thursday January 20, 2011

On a recent Tuesday morning, while most kids her age would be sitting in an algebra or American history classroom, 16 year old Dawn Dudley was doing something entirely different. Dudley, a student in Wayfinder Schools’s Residential Program, was at work, as an administrative intern at the Camden office of The Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Dudley and her fellow Wayfinder Schools students spend four mornings each week gaining hands on experience in the workplace, and developing skills they can directly apply to their post-graduation careers.

Dudley arrived at Wayfinder Schools in September, and soon thereafter learned about the opening at Make-A-Wish. Dudley said she was immediately drawn to the job. “I found Make-A-Wish very intriguing,” she said. “The whole idea is very powerful. I thought it would be a cool experience.”

The Make-A-Wish Foundation was founded in 1980, with the goal of granting wishes to children with life threatening illnesses. The Maine chapter was founded in 1992, and Executive Director Tom Peaco said the chapter grants one wish every five or six days. That means 70 or 75 wishes for Maine children each year, a schedule that Peaco said “keeps us busy.”

In recent years, those wishes have included everything from a tree house, a pop-up camper, and a play set, to swimming with manta rays in Hawaii, searching for the Loch Ness monster in Scotland, watching the World Cup finals in South Africa, surfing in Australia, meeting Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and traveling to Disneyworld.

“There’s a lot of detail work involved,” Peaco said, “but the beauty of Make-A-Wish is that it takes families and kids in crisis and gives them something else to think about, lets them forget for a while. The experience and the anticipation, that’s the power of the wish experience. It’s a reminder that life is good.”

This is the second year in a row Make-A-Wish has hosted a Wayfinder Schools intern, and Peaco said he would recommend the program to other local businesses. “For sure,” he said. “Particularly for a non-profit that has limited resources. It’s a huge benefit to us. Dawn’s been a huge help, probably more of a help than she thinks. She really keeps things rolling.”

Dudley says her primary responsibilities are filing, photocopying and helping with mailings, but that her favorite experiences so far have been putting together a packet of wishes for a child to choose from, and helping to develop a calendar that helps children count the days until their “wish day.” She said she thinks her experiences at Make-A-Wish will “help a lot” when she applies for future jobs.

Peaco said, “It works both ways. We’re helping Dawn develop new skills, and even though some of what she’s doing sounds mundane, it’s important in keeping the office going.”

For more information about Wayfinder Schools or The Career Exploration & Opportunities Program call 236-3000.