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Starkloff Disability Institute seeks to expand career opportunities for high school students

Wade Rakes (left) and Colleen Starkloff (right) talked about efforts designed to inspire high school students with disabilities to explore vast career options.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Wade Rakes (left) and Colleen Starkloff (right) talked about efforts designed to inspire high school students with disabilities to explore vast career options.

In its efforts to “make the world a better place for disabled people,” the Starkloff Disability Institute is organizing a summer camp designed to inspire high school students with disabilities to explore vast career options, Colleen Starkloff, co-founder of the organization, said.

She joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Wednesday to talk about the organization’s upcoming program, Dream Big Career Camp. Wade Rakes, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Centene Corporation also joined the conversation to talk about how companies are partnering in the effort.

Many teens with disabilities often don’t know what job opportunities lie ahead, and many end up in social service jobs, Starkloff said.

“But what if your future is in corporate America and what if you don’t know it?” she added.

The summer career camp is a two-week-long program that will take high school students to corporations in the St. Louis area to tour and network with employees. It will be offered three times throughout the summer.

The first week of the career camp is geared for high school juniors and seniors interested in going to a two- or four-year college. The second week focuses on those interested in trade or tech schools.

Companies participating in the program include Express Scripts, Boeing, Microsoft and Launch Code, as well as St. Louis Community College’s culinary arts program.

Centene will also be among those companies taking part in the career camp, introducing students to employees in various departments and providing tours of their their service center in Ferguson and innovation and information technology operations.

“We want to expose them to not only the people doing the work, but different types of work in hopes that it engages something within them at that young age,” Rakes said, adding that internships and jobs are available for various education levels.

The health-care enterprise ranks among the best in inclusion efforts in the country.

“We believe that our workforce needs to be reflective of the communities that we’re in,” Rakes said. “People with disabilities have an interest, a capacity and frankly … the ability for those individuals to really contribute to our success as a company internally and externally as we serve our members.”

The stigma surrounding disability often overshadows the “tenacity and drive” and skills people have to offer.

“We don’t like to be referred to as heroes for living with disability – you have to play the hand you’re dealt,” Starkloff said. She noted that those living with disabilities often develop problem-solving skills needed in the professional field.

“Somebody who has those kinds of skills just to live with their disabilities can do a great job working for a company where you have to be able to think on your feet, be creative, tenacious, persistence – those are transferable skills and disabled people who are seeking success have those skills,” she added.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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