Tractor Supply Co. hosts graduation ceremony for local student interns

Tractor Supply Co. hosted a celebration Thursday morning for two State College students that completed an internship offering students with disabilities a “road to independence,” LifeLink PSU’s coordinator Ellen Cannizzaro said.

State College Area special education students William Francis and Caleb Ryland have worked at the store for the last 90 days as part of a work study program. They were surprised by their classmates and teachers with donuts and coffee in a small ceremony for the last day of the internship.

Francis, 18, has been hired by Tractor Supply as a part-time employee and will continue to work there while his final two years in the LifeLink program. Ryland, 21, will graduate from the program alongside nine of his classmates later this month.

LifeLink PSU is a partnership program between Penn State and SCASD to provide students with disabilities ages 18-21 the opportunity to learn from Penn State students and complete internship programs.

LifeLink students work with Penn State students who act as job coaches, learning how to do the job as well in order to help the LifeLink students.

Penn State seniors Karyn Capotorto and Devan Walker served as job coaches for Francis and Ryland during their internships.

“In the beginning, it was more learning how to do but now he comes in everyday with so much confidence and he knows exactly what he’s doing,” Capotorto said about Francis. “It’s been awesome to watch that growth.”

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William Francis restocks the dog toys at Tractor Supply Co. through his internship on Thursday, April 7, 2022. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Ryland has become much more independent during his internship, Walker said, being able to do tasks on his own and communicating when he’s getting overwhelmed or frustrated.

Independence is a key component of LifeLink, Cannizzaro said. The program is always looking for job sites willing to participate in the program so students can have more internship choices and learn what careers interest them.

This is the first time Tractor Supply Co. has partnered with LifeLink to accept students for the work-study program. Eric Wagner, the store’s manager, said LifeLink students are helping to fill employment gaps and he looks forward to working with more students in the future.

“Inclusion and diversity is something that’s easy for people to talk about but when you actually get to implementing it and putting it into place, it takes commitment and support from everyone in the building,” Wagner said. “The team’s really rallied around William and Caleb being here.”

Wagner said Francis and Ryland are consistently engaged in their work and have shown great progress throughout the internship.

Lydia Everhart, SCASD’s transition coordinator, said that LifeLink students make not only great employees but also involved community members. Everhart helps students transition from the district into post-secondary education, employment and independent living.

“It really helps them and it helps our community because most of these students are going to stay here,” Everhart said. “They will probably be some of the most hardworking and dedicated employees because their jobs are so important.”

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Caleb Ryland sweeps at Tractor Supply Co. through his internship on Thursday, April 7, 2022. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Both students said they were grateful for the opportunity and enjoyed their time at the internship. Francis said his favorite area to work in the store was the pet aisle, and Ryland loves mopping and greeting customers, which he did for the last time at the store on Thursday.

“Working at Tractor Supply has been a great opportunity,” Francis said. “…It’s gotten me where I am today, this grand ceremony with all these people that I know and care about.”

Keely Doll is an education reporter and service journalist for the Center Daily Times. She has previously worked for the Columbia Missourian and The Independent UK.

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