Program helps BMHS students get a clean start for building life skills

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(From left): Beloit Memorial High School students Daniel Harp, DeEricka Jones, Kirstin Foulker and Wyatt Walker tote some laundry through the halls. Students who are intellectually disabled are launching Loads to Success, a laundry service to disadvantaged students. Students are learning job skills while providing a valuable volunteer service to fellow students in need.

BELOIT — There will be lots of love in the loads laundered by caring and helpful students at Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS).

Students with intellectual disabilities at the school are launching Loads to Success, a volunteer-run free laundry service for economically disadvantaged students. The project starts next week.

Although free laundry programs for students have been making national news, BMHS will be the first one to be entirely run by students with intellectual disabilities, according to Lori Lange, special educator.

Star students such as Miracle Pritchard, Minerva Baylon, Kirstin Foulker, Wyatt Walker and Daniel Harp are treating Loads to Success like a business. Each load will be tagged, inventoried and moved through an assembly line. Students will greet their “customers” with a smile, separate lights and darks, dry, fold and assist in efficient delivery.

The students have been brainstorming their business practices for months with Lange, along with special education teachers Cody Klintworth and Alexis Haenel.

“Our greatest fear is the red sock,” Lange joked.

Lange said the students volunteering to do the laundering will be gaining a sense of pride and independence as they help their cohorts in need regain their dignity. Students without washing facilities at home will discreetly drop off their laundry at the school’s back doors. Once the program gets rolling, disadvantaged students will be given a laundry bag and identification tag.

Loads to Success already has launched a fundraising campaign with a goal of raising $10,000 to purchase more washers and dryers as well as detergent and a budget for repairs. With only two washers and dryers the school will be in need of more of them. Those interested in making donations can visit the website at https://classmunity.com/sdbwi/view-campaign.php?campaign_id=58

With the School District of Beloit having a poverty rate of 72.1 percent in 2015-2016, Lange along with other special educators thought it would be great for students in need. The growing number of schools that have offered laundry services have reported better attendance and grades.

Lange first heard about such programs on National Public Radio. While some schools sent student laundry to an outside contractor, Lange said BMHS already had students with intellectual disabilities washing and drying towels for swim classes as well as laundering theater costumes and sports jerseys. By expanding the laundry program to include the clothing of those in need, she thought it would give her students a sense of pride and independence and a sense of dignity.

Lange explained how her students learn to do laundry as part of the life skills they work to acquire, with eight to nine loads of laundry being done throughout the day. Students such as Miracle Pritchard take the task above and beyond, reminding peers to check loads when she hears the dryer buzz.

“She never misses a beat,” Lange said. “Every single company should have an employee like her.”

The district also teaches other basic skills to students with intellectual disabilities such as vacuuming, cleaning and preparing meals so the students may become more independent at home and also have job skills.

“We do try to give the kids as much work experience as possible so they can be functional members of society and live independently after high school,” Lange said.

Some have taken the skills used while doing laundry to obtain work. Minerva Baylon works part-time at the Ironworks Hotel through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation thanks to skills honed at the washing machines. Minerva said her new job makes her happy and she likes going every day.

In an interview on Tuesday, the students said they were ready to start washing. However, they most look forward to when they will be serving as mentors, eventually teaching the disadvantaged students how to wash their own clothes.

Once disadvantaged students get their grades stabilized, Lange explained how they will be paired with one of the special education students to learn how to use the washer and dryer — a skill some students in need might not possess. Passing along that knowledge will be a profound experience for special education students.

“Over the years they’ve got so much help from other students. It will be the first time they take the leadership role in teaching someone else how to do something, and it’s very exciting for us,” Lange said. “It will create a bond between students at BMHS.”

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