Did you know, according to the United Nations, about 1 billion people — or 15 percent of the world’s population — have some type of disability? Who can a disabled individual call upon for help?

There are several organizations and resources highlighted in 22-year-old Sam Koh’s success story: the Forest Lake native has been working with Opportunity Services, a local nonprofit that helps disabled adults find meaningful employment in the community, for several years.

Sam is a recent graduate of the Project Search program at Medtronic, where he worked cleaning up materials in the warehouse. The Project SEARCH High School Transition Program is a business-led, one-year school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace for students with disabilities. Following his graduation from Project Search and high school, Sam wanted to find a “real-world” job and turned to Opportunity Services for assistance. Opportunity Services helped Sam find his current job as a part-time dishwasher at Paleos Restaurant in Lino Lakes and continues to provide him with on-the-job support. Sam also helps out at his dad’s business, Tire Warehouse in Forest Lake, during his free time.

Paleos Restaurant is locally owned by John and Elizabeth Pavlick, a husband-and-wife team. “Sam does a great job for us here at Paleos,” Elizabeth said. “He is very sweet and joyful on the job.”

Paleos Restaurant opened last October and specifically caters to the Paleo lifestyle, meaning the food it prepares is gluten-, dairy- and sugar-free. Sam was hired on the spot during his first interview at Paleos — something in which he takes great pride. He was actually among the first group of employees hired, so Sam had the opportunity to see this restaurant grow from its beginning stages. Sam’s smile is infectious to the entire restaurant and anyone who meets him. He truly enjoys his job because it keeps him busy and he gets the opportunity to meet new people.

Sam’s long-term goal is to live and work independently. When he heard about Bethel University’s new program for adults with disabilities, Sam knew this program was a way he could reach his goals. This coming fall, Sam is heading to Bethel University to participate in the BUILD Program: Bethel University Inclusive Learning and Development. The BUILD Program is a brand-new, two-year commitment for adults with disabilities, where students build life skills and can earn a certificate, and Sam is among the first 12 students to enroll.

Bethel President Jay Barnes sums up the university’s motivation to offer this program: "BUILD is valuable because it offers postsecondary education to a group of students who didn't previously have access, and because it invites additional diversity into our community. We're committed to serving students with intellectual disabilities, helping them to take their place as independent, productive, and valued members of our community and our world."

A few weekends ago, Sam stayed overnight at the campus to make sure he would feel comfortable this coming fall. At the end of the weekend, he didn’t want to leave.

Dawn Allen, director of the BUILD Program, is excited to see Sam’s success: “Sam’s needs and goals lined up perfectly with our new program here at Bethel. He is the perfect candidate for BUILD because of his willingness to gain experience and his long-term goal to live and work on his own.”

An avid hockey and Wild fan, Sam has already set up opportunities to work with the Bethel hockey team in the fall after he moves on campus.

Sam’s entire team: Opportunity Services, Project Search and BUILD have worked together to make his story such a success.

To learn more about Opportunity Services, visit www.OppServ.org. To learn more about Project Search, visit www.projectsearch.us. To learn more about Bethel’s BUILD Program or to apply to the BUILD Program, visit www.bethel.edu/build.

— Compiled from press release.

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