By Lauren Schiffman, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Open since November 2018, the Sugar Shack in Westborough has been the vocational learning lab for the BORO program, where Westborough students between the ages of 18 and 22 who have special learning abilities are trained in business and life skills. Run by Westborough Public Schools, the students’ work at the program is tied to their IEPs; when they’re in the store, everything they do is part of their education.
In the program, students learn skills for independent living and how to navigate their community. A teacher and paraeducators work to ensure that these needs are met.
Erin LaPrad, BORO Program Coordinator, oversees the integration of the two sides of the program to ensure that goals are being met. She also identifies ways to engage the community through on-site events, providing social opportunities for the students.
The Sugar Shack was established to be self-sufficient through sales, with the goal of paying the students as employees once the store gained profitability, according to LaPrad. Ultimately, she added, “our focus is to help the students secure paid jobs that match their career goals.”
Preparing students for their futures
The young adults who volunteer at The Sugar Shack, located just off the rotary, learn skills like customer service, inventory management, running a cash register, basic job skills and more, that will prepare them for the next step in their journeys: paid work.
Although the BORO Program is still in its startup phase, it’s growing steadily. In 2020, the store performed well “thanks to an awesome community that supported us along the way,” LaPrad said, “and we’re reaching our goal to begin paying students for the hours they work on the weekends and after program hours.”
Supporting our students
An anonymous donation of $10,000 provided seed money to begin paying student employees minimum wage for their work at The Sugar Shack. Inspired by that donation, a GoFundMe was established by local resident Ilyse Levine-Kanji to seek additional donations for the BORO Program.
“I always feel happy when I leave the Sugar Shack with a yummy treat or merchandise. Seeing the students so rightfully proud of themselves — showing off their abilities, not their disabilities — is truly heartwarming,” Levine-Kanji said.
Ultimately, with paid jobs, the students will go through an onboarding process that includes HR, paperwork and more as part of their education. LaPrad said that “every piece of what the students do is a learning opportunity. It’s important to have them in the store so they’re seen. Our community wants to see them after school and on weekends,” she added.
There are currently eight students in the program, which continues to grow. LaPrad hopes to be able to invite program graduates and alumni to work for pay at The Sugar Shack on weekends and after-hours. But to do so, a total of $30,000 must be raised.
Click here to donate to the BORO Sugar Shack.
In their own words – A Q&A with students
Q: What’s the best thing about working at the Sugar Shack?
A: Being able to sample the candy -Laura
Meeting new people -Shousei
Working with the different machines -Christopher
Being able to help out -Lydia
Helping customers -Gia
Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned at the BORO?
A: Being a great student -Christopher
Learning job skills -Shousei
Listening to teachers -Lydia
Being able to help people -Laura
Skills for independent living -Gia
Q: How do you think the BORO & Sugar Shack will help you in the future?
A: I will learn how to work in a store with customers to help me work at Starbucks in the future! -Laura
I’m learning to use different machines that I want to do in the future as a carpenter. -Christopher
I am getting job experience for my resume. -Gia
I want to work at Dunkin Donuts someday and will know how to work in a store. -Lydia
I’m learning how to work independently which will help me be an artist. -Shousei