Spotlight on REAL Program, Museums

In this month’s column I would like to provide an update on a great program that Denton County participated in called REAL that provides independent living skills to high school students with blindness. The second part of the article discusses the County’s museums and the important role they play in preserving our local history.

Partnership with UNT Program Reaps Rewards for Denton County
Denton County recently participated for the first time in the Real Employment and Living (REAL) program.  This very valuable program is sponsored and coordinated by the University of North Texas in Denton.   The REAL program teaches independent living skills to high school students with blindness or low vision and provides them with opportunities for work experience.  Participants learn the skills necessary to search and apply for jobs, practice independent living skills that support maintaining a job and participate in work that enhances their future career development. 

Denton County was one of several local employers recruited to host REAL program participants.  The Human Resources Department identified likely county job sites and proposed the program to several Denton County departments.  The County Clerk, the Criminal District Attorney and the Elections Administrator enthusiastically accepted the invitation to acts as hosts for the program.   They attended a brief orientation to the program with the UNT facilitator, and later interviewed prospects for job opportunities in their departments.  Two participants were selected by each of the three departments. 

Although they may have had no prior work experience, for the four week term of this program, the five participants managed to travel to their worksites and arrive on time.  They learned and completed their assigned tasks, and adapted well to their assigned work environments.  UNT provided Job Coaches for the participants to assist with training and facilitate the success of the exercises.  

While four weeks may not seem like sufficient time to teach a lot about work, the thank you notes from participants that Frank Phillips, Denton County Elections Administrator, shared with me speak volumes about the lessons learned.  Participants offered such observations as:  “Patience is a must in the workplace.”, “An easy job is not always a fun job.”, and, “I had been really scared about going to work, but this has helped me relax a little.”   Clearly, this program for students with blindness or low vision provides an important step in facilitating the sometimes frightening transition from high school to the workforce.

Still, the student participants were not the only ones doing the learning.  County supervisors said that this program was a real eye opener for them, as well.  Maria Hinojosa, Investigative Supervisor, said she gained a greater understanding of the challenges that are faced by individuals who are legally blind.  “Every day the interns were here they took whatever task was given to them and completed it without complaint.  It shows how many of life’s challenges can be overcome with determination and dedication.”  Thomas Reece, Department Supervisor, was also touched and inspired.  “I never stopped being impressed with what little regard they showed to their limitations and how much determination they showed to getting each assignment accomplished.  I could not help but reflect on trivial things I had allowed to get in my way and think; I have to do better.”

Serving as one of the host workplaces for the UNT REAL program was a very rewarding experience, from Denton County’s perspective.  We hope to be invited back to partner with UNT again next year. 

Denton County Museums
Denton County is full of unique and interesting history.  Located in downtown Denton, the Denton County Museums helps to bring that unique history to life through its two facilities, the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum and the Historical Park of Denton County.  The Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum is housed in the historical 1896 courthouse.  The museum tells the story of Denton County through photographs and artifacts.   The exhibits also showcase farm and kitchen implements, pottery, dolls and thimbles from around the world, and one-of-a-kind pecan art figures.  The Richardsonian-Romanesque courthouse is an integral part of the museum’s story.  The Courthouse Museum is open Monday-Friday from 10am until 4:30pm and on Saturday from 11 am until 3 pm.

The Historical Park of Denton County is located on Mulberry Street only a few blocks from the square.  It is currently the home to the Bayless-Selby House Museum, a Victorian historic house, and the Denton County African American Museum, which showcases Denton County’s African American history.  The Denton County Historical Commission is renovating more structures to be included in the park for visitors’ enjoyment.  Future projects include the Welcome Center, the Elm Ridge Church, the Old Number 14 Fire truck, and a four-hole outhouse.  The Historical Park is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am until noon and from 1-3 pm.

The Denton County Museums are managed by the staff under the direction of Denton County and the Denton County Historical Commission.  Membership is open to all county residents.  The Museums relies on volunteers to serve as docents in the museums, assist with educational programs, and help with the collection.  Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Sherrin Hubert at [email protected] or 940-349-2850.  Anyone who would like to join the Denton County Historical Commission should contact Roslyn Shelton at [email protected] or 940-349-2860.

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at 940-349-2801 or email me at [email protected]


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