From the beginning, the Cypress Campus of Houston’s First has had close connections with Cy-Fair ISD. The campus met each Sunday at Smith Middle School when it launched in 2013. In 2017, the campus moved into its own facility next door to Bridgeland High School where the church and school share a parking lot. The Cypress Campus has adopted three schools through Cy-Fair ISD’s Adopt-A-School program — Sheridan Elementary, Wells Elementary, and Bridgeland High School. Now, the Cypress Campus is partnering with Cy-Fair ISD in a new way by providing opportunities for the VITAL program at Bridgeland High School.
According to the law, students in a special education program have a right to a free and appropriate education within the school system until their 22nd birthday. At Cy-Fair ISD, there is a special education program called L.I.F.E. (Learning in Functional Environments) Skills. The district noticed a need to provide additional programs for students who had completed the educational requirement in the Life Skills program. Therefore, Cy-Fair ISD developed the VITAL program — an extension of Life Skills where students ages 18-22 years old focus on vocational and independent living skills.
“VITAL prepares our students, whom I call individuals with abilities, for life outside of high school whether that be in a day habilitation program, a job, or assisting at home with parents depending on their skill level,” says Bridgeland High School VITAL teacher Ladye Lindsey. “When they are in the 9th-12th grade, they still get L.I.F.E. Skills classes but when they come to us in VITAL, we like to take it to the next level. We do a vocational assessment, we talk to students and parents. We try to build a program based on what they are going to do after high school.”
VITAL students work in the community at different job sites and Lindsey, who was brought on board to launch the program, knew that our Cypress Campus would be a great opportunity for the students to contribute to the community.
“This is my first year at Bridgeland and this is the first year that Bridgeland has had VITAL. When I passed the Cypress Campus of Houston’s First on my way to the school for the first time, I said ‘that is going to be one of our job sites,’’ Lindsey explains. “One day, I stopped by the church and they received me well. They were excited to hear about the program and then the connection for our students to work at the church began.”
There are five VITAL students who work at the Cypress Campus on Monday mornings. They are accompanied by Lindsey and para-educator Mrs. Melaina Hiner, follow a particular dress code, and arrive ready to work. The students help fulfill various needs that the church has including putting together packets that school-aged children utilize on Sundays in the worship services.
“I enjoy the different jobs the church gives us to do. I prepare snacks for the children's church, we prepare new member packets, and make sure the sanctuary chairs have pens and Bibles,” one VITAL student explains. “We have to focus on our jobs and do what we’re asked to do.”
A parent also shares the impact of the VITAL program on their student. “He has learned that on Mondays he will be going to the church, and he will always tell us that he needs to make sure that he wears his khaki pants. I think it's important for him because it helps him to understand his weekly routine and the expectations for him to be able to participate in this partnership with the church,” the parent explains. “I think he understands that the jobs that he does are important and should be done correctly. I think this is a great experience for him. He has talked about some tasks that he does at the church. He always talks about them completing various sorting tasks. I think doing these tasks will help him in future job endeavors.”
This opportunity to work at Houston’s First provides more than just a job site for these students. “When you have a disability, you’re always depending on other people in many areas of your life,” Lindsey shares. “So, I’ve seen that it gives these students a sense of pride and belonging to work at the church where they can provide a service to people that are now depending on them.”
Lindsey appreciates the significance of the partnership between the VITAL program and the church. “It is a powerful statement that the Cypress Campus of Houston’s First has made in this partnership,” Lindsey says. “ It says that the church not only preaches about being there for our community and for those that may be seen as less fortunate but they are actually doing that. As Jesus said ‘when you do it onto the least of them you do it unto Me.’”
This partnership has been a blessing to our church and the service that the students provide has become an essential part of our church’s ministry.
“Our VITAL friends have literally become a vital part of the ministry going on at and through the ministry of our church,” says Cypress Campus Pastor Jason Swiggart. “Through their service, whether it be through making sure the Worship Center is supplied with generosity envelopes, pens, and other items, packing snacks for our preschool ministry, or prepping materials for Make It Your Church Orientation, the VITAL friends help us continue to be a relevant biblical community.”