Twelve bid farewell to Harford Future Link program ready to become members of community

Nicholas Myers got his learner’s permit, and his goal for the fall is to get his driver’s license.

Benjamin Friedel has a paid job, working in the kitchen at Naughty Dogs in Churchville.

Sara Sawyer can work as part of the team and is well-liked and appreciated by her co-workers.

Those were just some of the accolades of the 12 students graduating Friday from Harford County Public Schools Future Link program, the post-secondary program for young adult students with disabilities.

About 24 students, ages 18 to 21 who have completed four years at an HCPS high school, learn academic, independent living and job skills in the Future Link Program, Students are in the program for two to three years, and they receive a Maryland High School Certificate of Program Completion when they finish.

“The goal is to link the students to opportunities to be as independent as possible,” John Archer School Principal Randy Geyer said at Friday’s ceremony. “I look forward to what the future holds as the graduates become active members of the community and effect change to make our world a better place, and we need you now more than ever.”

Nicholas Myers didn’t want to come to Future Link because he was nervous.

“But once I started, I enjoyed it,” he said.

Myers was one of three student who volunteered to speak at the ceremony.

“Even though I miss my friends from Fallston High School, I quickly made some great new friends at Future Link and have had some great experiences,” he said.

He’s improved his math and money skills, had held several jobs and on numerous trips.

“The experiences are things I will always remember and they will always be special to me,” Myers said. “I will miss Future Link, but I look forward to the future and I’m excited for the next chapter in my life.”

Miryana Aimee Pena Sanchez came to Future Link from Edgewood High.

She said she has worked hard and improved her skills over the years and has especially enjoyed the activities with her friends.

“I had fun with my friends and teachers in the program,” Sanchez said. “I am officially a graduate. I am so excited for my next journey, but I’m going to miss you all.”

Friedel has worked at Churchville Elementary School, Harford Community College Catering and Naughty Dogs Cafe.

“I like Naughty Dogs best because I get paid,” Friedel said.

When he arrived at Future Link from Havre de Grace High, Friedel was “a bit suspicious and nervous about the program,” he said.

“But I enjoyed everything at the end,” he said, but mostly that’s he was prepared to get a paid job for the summer.

Friedel offered advice to those still in the program: “Enjoy it while you can and hope you can get lucky and get a job at Naughty Dogs next year when I’m done.”

The Future Link teachers also spoke about their students.

Graduate Asa Eugene Cromwell came to Future Link three years ago from Havre de Grace High School with “a very positive attitude, a great sense of humor and a determined spirit,” teacher Robin Nemser said.

He knows people in high places because of the jobs he’s had — Havre de Grace Mayor Bill Martin, Emergency Manager Rick Ayres and the school system’s lawyer, Patrick Spicer, teacher Robin Nemser said.

“No matter where Asa works, he makes connections and friendships, that’s just the kind of person Asa is,” Nemser said.

Friedel, with Future Link for three years, may seem like “a quiet, shy young man, but when you get him talking, he has a great deal to share,” Nemser said. He’s passionate about animals, especially elephants, and he’ll tell you anything about them you’ve ever wanted to know.

While he’s had many jobs, his niche is at Naughty Dogs, she said.

“The owners [at Naughty Dogs] were so impressed with him they have asked him to continue working there over the summer,” she said.

Myers, with Future Link for two years, “is the sweetest guy you’d ever want to know and always has a beautiful smile ready when you greet him in the morning,” Nemser said.

His desire is to be employed in paid position in an area where he can work with his hands, she said.

“We have great faith that he will soon find that employer who will recognize his many strengths,” Nemser said. “You are truly a firefly, Nick, and we know you will keep that inner glow shining,” Nemser said.

Sara Sawyer hesitated to ride the community bus or walk across campus when she started with Future Link three years ago after Joppatowne High School.

“Today, she’s great with all of that and more,” Nemser said. “Her level of self-confidence has grown tremendously. She is more independent and willing to try new things.”

She has worked mainly in the food service area, but regardless of where she works, she has the ability to know what needs to be done and jumps in to complete the tasks without being asking.

“Continue to grow, Sara, you will continue to amaze yourself and all of those around you,” Nemser said.

Nemser’s final student, Keith Street, did not attend Friday’s ceremony because she didn’t want to miss a day of work.

He was only with Future Link for a short time, but he always completed all the assignments given to him and it was rare to see him without a book in hand, teacher Amy Buddenmeier said.

“The books were mainly about philosophy and religion, and he would talk to you about them, too. Pretty amazing,” Buddenmeier said.

Whatever Jordan Elder does, he does it in a “robust manner,” she said.

“Go big or go home, that’s Jordan. Whatever he does he does it big — there’s no other way,” Buddenmeier said of Elder, who was with Future Link for three years after Joppatowne High.

At one of the places he worked, he was called a machine, “because he just knew his job, he did it and there was no arguing with Jordan, he did his thing.”

Aaron Fender’s is quiet and enjoys reading and watching old movies, especially those starring Elvis Presley.

His true passion is working at the library. When Fender started, he was working at the Abingdon Library, where he has continued to work and develop his skills over the last three years.

He hopes to continue to develop his skills and eventually get a paid job there.

Kelly Foy is full of sass and spunk, Buddenmeier said.

“I heard that!” Kelly said as she walked up to the stage to receive her certificate.

“There’s never a dull moment when Kelly’s around,” Buddenmeier said. “She will always challenge you with her off the cuff comebacks and leave you speechless.”

Foy was affectionately named “Caboose” by one of the Town of Bel Air parking enforcement officers, because she was always “bringing up the rear” on their community walks, Buddenmeier said.

Not a day does by that Matthew Holcomb doesn’t offer to help someone do something.

“No matter what his path, he will always do it whole heartedly and with a passion like no one else,” she said of the two year member of Future Link who came from John Archer. “It’s hard to say what his most favorite job is, because he loved doing everything. Anything and everything where he can be helpful, Matthew is all over it.”

Sanchez is determined and independent, Buddenmeier said. When given a task, she “was 100 percent wanted to do it independently and was so proud of anything she did.”

Destine Valentine came to Future Link two years ago from Joppatowne High.

“He’s always been a hard worker and willing to step in whenever he can,” Buddenmeier said.

He’s found his place in the kitchen.

“He knows what he needs to do, he knows his routine and he has been successful,” she said.

Brianna Ziehl starts and ends her days at Future Link with a hug, which always made Buddenmeier’s day better.

Ziehl hardly spoke the first half of her first year in the program.

“But all of the sudden, she came out of her shell, and boy, did she come out of her shell. Her spunky and sassy personality follows her wherever she goes,” Buddenmeier said. “I will fully miss you and your awesome personal and everything you have brought to our classroom and my life. You are amazing young woman and I wish you all the best.”

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