By Art Haddaway

For Ann Trost, working at Family Animal Medicine goes beyond just a part-time summer job.

Her love of animals recently landed her at the Owasso clinic, 10305 N. Owasso Expy., where she can be found caring for her new furry, four-legged friends.

Trost was employed by the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services through its annual Summer Transition Employment Program, or STEP, which provides career planning and on-the-job training for students with disabilities.

The 18-year-old Owasso resident and Epic Charter Schools student, diagnosed with a learning disability, said working with the animals has helped her cope with various cognitive issues.

“I just love it here,” said Trost, who has struggled with outbursts from an early age. “I just love animals; it’s just that they’re so calm… they’re here to calm me down.”

Throughout the week, Trost puts in several hours alongside the Family Animal Medicine team, feeding, grooming and treating locals’ pets across the community.

“Cleaning the dog’s cages, taking them outside, I’m giving them water,” Trost said, “and after that, I play with the kittens and I do a lot of things.”

She said her favorite part of the day is getting to pet and hold the animals, particularly the cats.

“(It’s) very, very good,” Trost said. “They’re so gentle, they love me, and whenever I go near them, they just want to be pet.”

Trost joins 15 other students in Owasso and Collinsville who are enrolled in the STEP program, serving in positions at Walgreens, Cornerstone Ace Hardware, Simple Simon’s Pizza, Owasso Family YMCA and Owasso Coffee Company, among others.

Before participants hit the workforce, they are taken through a week of in-house employability and life-skills training, where they apply for a job, undergo mock interviews and learn about public transportation, cooking, budgeting and more.

Esther Watkins, transition specialist at DRS, oversees the Owasso and Collinsville areas and strives to place the students in positions based on their interests, where they will work the remainder of the summer.

“They get kind of a whole gamut of different types of skills,” Watkins said. “We do use those community businesses as training sites to be able to get them valuable training, learning about the actual job in a real work setting.”

One day a week, Trost and the other students also come together to discuss their progress as well as hear from program instructors, tour different businesses and give back to the community through various services.

Watkins added that STEP is contributing to students’ futures in a significant way, enabling them to pursue work study programs and other employment opportunities that they may not have been able to without the program.

“The fact that they see that they can actually work a summer just like any other student … and the fact that they’re getting to earn a paycheck,” Watkins said, “it really makes them see that, ‘I can do this,’ and ‘I can be successful.’ It’s definitely going to help build their confidence.”

Trost said she is interested in attending college after completing the STEP program and graduating from Epic to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine.

For more information about the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services and its STEP program, visit okdrs.org/2019/STEP-camps.

Art is a seasoned reporter of over 15 years with an extended background in writing and editing for a variety of publications and organizations.