COLLINSVILLE, Ill. – Keshawn Thomas is now a proud employee with the City of Collinsville. He was honored during this week’s city council meeting for becoming the first individual to complete a year-long apprenticeship for students with disabilities.

The program is the result of efforts by the City of Collinsville, the U.S. Department of Labor, Madison County Employment and Training, and Collinsville Community Unit School District 10. Thomas received his USDOL Apprenticeship Certificate on Tuesday.

“This is the beginning of this program,” said Tony Fuhrmann, director of Madison County Employment and Training. “We’re talking to other school districts in our area to see how we can take this program to the other school districts. We hope to take it nationally at some point.”

Thomas is now a Parks and Recreation employee for Collinsville and does landscaping and groundskeeping work. His mother, Tarica, joined family and friends for a ceremony honoring her son at city hall Tuesday night.

“I’m very proud,” she said. “He’s been breaking milestones since he was 3 years old, being diagnosed with autism.”

“I’m going to try not to cry,” said Cathy Kulupka, a special education teacher with the Collinsville school district. “I’m just so excited for him and for the future students that can be part of this program as well.”

“You live for these moments,” said Mitch Blair, Collinsville city manager. “As public servants, you sometimes wonder how much you do impact people.”

There was also a surprise presentation during Tuesday’s meeting. Parks and Recreation employee Michael Dowell was honored for being a mentor to Thomas.

Earlier in the day, Dowell was helping Thomas plant bulbs in the ground outside the city’s Aqua Park.

While the two were digging holes, Dowell told Thomas, “All kinds of pretty flowers will come up this spring. Everyone will love it.” Thomas responded, “Love it!”

When the two completed their work, Dowell said of Thomas, “He’s kind of like a ‘Mr. Sunshine kind of thing. He comes in and brightens everyone’s day.”

Following Tuesday’s surprise award, Dowell said he hopes more people learn about the apprenticeship program.

“This is something that I’m hoping brings more attention to something that is great,” he said.

Following the award presentation, Thomas thanked those who attended.

Four more students are currently enrolled in the apprenticeship program. City officials said they have seen amazing growth and independence from those who participate.


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