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General Manager of Mrs E's

“They take the job seriously and do a good job,” Mr. Maranell said of his employees with developmental disabilities.

 


 

General Manager of Mrs E'sNow Mr. Riddle, who has Autism, mild Intellectual Disability and Schizophrenia, is working a 40-hour week, has health insurance through the company, a 401(k) savings plan, and profit sharing.

 


General Manager of Mrs E's

 

Tony Schwager, who teaches shop at Baldwin High School, said the long term goal of Anthony’s Beehive is financial independence for his son.

 


General Manager of Mrs E's

 

“I’m right in there with everybody else” could be said to be Colin Olenick’s life theme. “With a little bit of what I’d call ‘unorthodox help,’ I’ve been able to achieve much.”


 

 

 

 

Employment1st.org is funded by the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities (KCDD). Design by Lawson Phillips Associates. Stories by Tim Hoyt. Photography by Lawson Phillips. Publication design by Arthur McCash and Lawson Phillips.

Combining the skills of a personal coach, advocate, and marketer, Employment Specialists who work with people with disabilities are key to a much needed system change.

In a world where people with disabilities are disproportionately unemployed -- often because they are trapped by backward attitudes that deem them unemployable -- Employment Specialists work to match clients with employers to address the problem.

There is no secret formula involved, but evolving methods are showing success.

 

  • “Part of my job is to try to open the door a little bit wider.” Kassandra Griffin, Employment Specialist for Valeo Behavioral Health Care, Topeka.
  • "You have to always think of what is best for the consumer.” Tish Gutierrez, Employment Specialist for Johnson County Developmental Services.
  • "I’ll help fill out applications and contact businesses. I’ll be the client’s advocate.” Tammy Carrell, Employment Specialist at KETCH in Wichita.
  • “We think of our clients as assets to companies.” Ryan Boyd, Employment Specialist at Valeo Behavioral Health, Topeka.
  • A job coach told of a client that loved animals. She found a paid job for that client at the local Humane Society.

 

Getting to know the employment priorities and the skills of the people they serve is the first job of the Employment Specialist, who most often work for not-for-profit agencies. They do this by spending time with their client, getting to know them and their circle of family and friends.

Then they market the client’s preferences and skills to employers. They often do this in a way very similar to how they work with clients: they spend time at businesses, getting to know employers and the skills these employers need to fill jobs.

Done right, the process helps both the employer and the client. It becomes a match. The goal of Employment Specialists is to assist people with disabilities find competitive jobs and help employers fill jobs that meet their needs.

Whether at agencies specializing in serving people with developmental or physical disabilities or at agencies that work with people with mental illness, Employment Specialists are advocating for the people they serve. They are advocates for that much needed system change.

On the following pages, several Employment Specialists are profiled. In each profile, Employment Specialists display the professionalism and attitude needed to do this difficult job. And the employment success they help create needs to be duplicated again and again.

 

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Tammy at WorkTammy Carrell says it‘s far from what she’d call a “cookie cutter job.” But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

As an Employment Training Specialist for KETCH, a Wichita agency that provides support for people with developmental disabilities, Ms. Carrell is well known to businesses in town. She spends many a day visiting employers, most often with a client looking for employment.

“A lot of places it’s ‘Hi Tammy,‘” she said. “I get to know employers. I try to get to know their business a little bit.”

Ms. Carrell, who has been with KETCH’s employment division for six years, has a degree in marketing. But she said she could not imagine herself working in an ad agency or other office job.

“I think it would be boring,” she said. “But I still do marketing. I market people’s skills.”

Clients referred to KETCH employment services come from Kansas Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services. Because KETCH specializes in working with people with cognitive disabilities, the majority of the referrals have a developmental disability.

A major part of the employment services at KETCH is coordination among and within agencies. .

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Patty at WorkJob Coach Patty Waters keeps photographs of many of the clients she has worked with over 15 years on the job. She photographs clients after they have found successful employment, using the hundreds of photos as an incentive to new clients.

Picking up one of several photo albums she keeps by her desk, she points to various photographs:

“There’s Suzanne at Fazoli’s, Tim at Dillons, Marsha at Olive Garden, Leah at Sharp Line,” she says as she leafs through the album. “And there’s Paul at the bowling alley. He cleans shoes.“

Ms. Waters said she keeps the photos to show to new clients looking for employment.

“They show our clients they also can be successful in the community,” she said.

Ms. Waters is a Job Coach at KETCH in Wichita, an agency that provides support for people with developmental disabilities, including employment services. About 80 percent of clients looking for employment at KETCH have cognitive disabilities.

Job Coaches work directly with clients after the client starts a job, bringing  added support by helping him or her learn the job. After the client learns the job, Job Coaches return to the work site twice a month to make sure things are going well, and also come in when job duties are changed or added.

Many of the photographs in Ms. Waters’ albums also document the monthly “Job Club” KETCH holds for successful clients during summer months. This is another incentive for new clients to gain community employment success: get a job and join the Job Club. .

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Maureen at WorkMaureen Harvey and Leticia “Tish” Gutierrez know each other well. You can tell by their friendly banter.

Ms. Gutierrez explained that to help Maureen Harvey land a job wrapping silverware she made many a visit to the restaurant to visit with the restaurant manager.

“I was persistent,” Ms. Gutierrez said.

“Like you always are,” said Ms. Harvey.

“Look who’s talking,” shot back Ms. Gutierrez.

There is no doubt that Tish Gutierrez is persistent. As an Employment Specialists for Johnson County Developmental Supports (JCDS) for 22 years, it’s a needed trait in her job. She became an employment specialist after working for three years with clients of JCDS with behavior problems in a sheltered workshop and then on job sites with clients moving to community employment from sheltered workshops.

Working with Ms. Harvey, who is blind and has developmental disabilities, to find the job at Jose Pepper’s in Overland Park took about a year, and that job search came after a year of preparation.

The first step in the process of finding employment for people with disabilities assigned to the agency is getting to know the client and the client’s preferences for employment, said Ms. Gutierrez. .

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Ryan at WorkEmployment Specialist, Ryan Boyd told of one of his clients who got a job at an elementary school. The client was employed successfully but sometimes had panic attacks that would interfere with her ability to work.

“We found out that if we took a walk around the block every day,  she could deal with the panic,” Mr. Boyd said.

The short walk to alleviate panic attacks is just one of a myriad of techniques used by Employment Specialists in mental health centers across Kansas.

Mr. Boyd works at Valeo Behavioral Health Center in Topeka. He is one of seven employment specialists at the agency. Their job: help people diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness find and keep employment.

“A lot of folks have a plethora of issues,” said Mr. Boyd. “We work on symptoms management.”

Valeo is one of 14 mental health centers across Kansas involved in a supported employment program utilizing evidence-based practices to help people with mental illness find and keep work. Many of their clients have not worked for years, or have had sporadic employment until their mental illness causes a problem that costs them the job.

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Mary and Robyn at WorkShe has donned the uniform of a nursing home dining room worker, helped clean cat and rabbit cages at the Humane Society, worked in dining rooms of fast food restaurants, and helped as a courtesy clerk at a grocery store.

All these occupations are part of Mary Williams’ occupation.

For four years, she has been a Job Coach for JobLink, the employment program for Cottonwood Inc., the developmental disability center in Lawrence.

As a Job Coach, or Employment Consultant, she finds employment for persons with developmental disabilities -- some with severe physical and mental limitations -- and then trains the newly-hired employees until they master the job.

But before she can find her clients a job, Ms. Williams said she has to understand their strengths and limitations, their skills, and, most importantly, their interests. Working with the client, other JobLink staff at Cottonwood Inc., and often family members or other supporters, an Individual Support Plan is developed that details the client’s strengths and their skill level. Ms. Williams said she also meets with the client individually to help develop a profile.

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