LIVERMORE -- A handful of local employers are taking a leap of faith to help some of the community's most vulnerable members find a job.

Their employees are 18- to 22-year-old special education students about to move from the sheltered environment of school to the working world. About a dozen students are enrolled in the transition program at Granada High School, overseen by teacher Denise Watson-Lum and her staff.

Until recently, the students worked mostly at fast-food restaurants and volunteer jobs, which left them ill-prepared to earn a living, Watson-Lum said. A former business owner and entrepreneur, she decided to ask local business owners to help her see how high the bar could be raised.

Attitude Aviation owner Rich Perkins, center, talks to student Patrick Morin, 18, as special education instructor Denise Lums listens on Tuesday, Nov. 12,
Attitude Aviation owner Rich Perkins, center, talks to student Patrick Morin, 18, as special education instructor Denise Lums listens on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 in Livermore, Calif. . The special educarion students from Granada High School are learning how to detail airplanes at Livermore Airport, under the constant supervision of Lum and her aide Laurie McMillan. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

"I wanted (the students) working in a variety of industries, getting as much experience as possible and finding (opportunities) they may not have considered before," the teacher explained. "I thought, 'What's the highest level of opportunity I can provide here?' "

To date, her students have cared for developmentally delayed preschoolers at Croce Elementary School; learned catering skills at Wente Winery, studied plant care at Alden Lane Nursery, developed office skills at Livermore City Hall and learned the basics of aircraft detailing at Attitude Aviation and Tri-Valley Aviation at the Livermore Airport. They work a few hours each week and are accompanied to all job sites by Watson-Lum or aides Laurie McMillan and Tammy Carr-Hardy.

In addition to learning the basics of aircraft detailing and doing odd jobs, the students are taught basic workplace skills, said Rich Perkins, owner of Attitude Aviation.

"They learn a lot about not just airplanes but responsibility, attention to detail and work ethics," he said, "more so than they would mowing lawns."

The students are supervised at all times, Perkins said, and develop pride in their work.

"The kids appreciate that they are doing something important and unusual," he said. "When you're washing dishes, there are always more dishes, but airplanes are cool, and the kids are really proud of working on them. ... They're doing something that not everyone is doing.

"That pride translates into their work, and that's good for me," he said.

At City Hall, Watson-Lum's students handle routine office chores, freeing city staff from the time-consuming tasks.

"It's about providing an opportunity to a group of our population that does not get reached," said Bonnie Tom, who recruits city employees as part of the city's human resources department.

"These are the individuals who, if they applied for a job, probably would be beaten out by others ... We're teaching them some of the entry-level tasks, office etiquette and trying to teach them what it takes to be a good worker as far as attendance, appearance and attitude."

The work gives students the chance to gain job skills and make personal contacts that one day could help them find permanent work. The students say they love the work experience and responsibility.

"I worked at Wente, at City Hall and at the airport for a little while," said Steven Ostreicher, 21. "I enjoyed City Hall the most; I like everything about it ... they kept me really busy."

Mason Trevisano, 20, has also worked at several local businesses.

"At first I didn't like the airport; I thought it was boring," he said. "But after that, I realized that you get good money and that it's a big job. ... I learned a lot, and it's a real responsible job, and you meet some awesome people."

Watson-Lum's effort is noteworthy, said L. Karen Monroe, associate superintendent of education for the Alameda County Office of Education.

"This helps the students be seen and known," Monroe said. "She's using a lot of her resources and ingenuity to make this happen. These are above-and-beyond practices we want to celebrate and reward."

Perkins, of Attitude Aviation, said he hopes other businesses will support the program.

"If we can make it work around airplanes and make everyone feel safe about it, surely someone with a print shop or carwash or landscaping business obviously can make it work," he said.

The hope, Watson-Lum said, is simply to give her students a chance to show what they can do.

"They really, really deserve a chance, and they don't get those opportunities as readily as other people do," she said. "They're twice as hardworking and dedicated as most kids coming out of high school, and they fight the hardest battles.

"I just stand in awe of these kids every day."

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