From the Arkansas Department of Human Services

Kristen Kuykendall of Shirley has succeeded in finishing Jump Start, a three-week career development program for high school students who are blind or severely visually impaired. She was among 21 students from across the state who were accepted into the program, which ran from June 9-28 this summer.

Students learned skills to prepare them for life after high school. The DHS Division of Services for the Blind (DSB) placed students in part-time jobs in the mornings and had educational and recreational activities in the afternoons and evenings. This is the only program of its kind in Arkansas.

Arkansas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has partnered with DSB to put on the program, sharing resources and opening up dorms. Participants stay on the school’s Little Rock campus during the week and return home on the weekends.

To the degree possible, DSB placed students in jobs in their fields of interest, so they could gain insight into their chosen professions. Of course, some students didn’t have specific career goals at this point in their lives and were given other employment. Students can return to Jump Start in successive years and be placed in more advanced jobs as their experience grows. Although this was Kuykendall’s first time in Jump Start, she was placed at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center.

"I just loved it there. It was my first job and my first paycheck. I earned my own money. I learned how to get a job and show up and work every day. I assisted the tour guides and gave information to people," said Kuykendall.

Kuykendall had to miss her last night and day of Jump Start, but was allowed to graduate. She was heading to Anaheim, Calif., for the national Future Business Leaders of America competition after placing second in state competition. During high school, she was also active in the Family Career Community Leaders of America club, served in various positions on the Student Council, was the school mascot for two years, and attended Governor’s School last summer. She graduated as valedictorian at School for the Blind in May. Kuykendall made an ACT score of 32 and plans to attend college in the fall.