Thursday, October 1, 2015

Local organization helps to empower those with disabilities through job placement


by Becky Davis

The past few months have been full of major life changes for nineteen-year-old Maya of Grandview. Her family moved this spring from St. Louis. She started a full load of classes at Longview Community College this fall, and she landed her very first job with the help of JobOne Careers.

Maya has been working at Dollar General for three months. She straightens up merchandise, repackages opened items and helps clean up the store. She loves having her own spending money and uses it for dates with her boyfriend. Her first paycheck went towards a fun time at Crown Center. She is also saving up for a Magic Bullet so she can make her own smoothies.

Co-workers appreciate Maya’s cheerful disposition and positive attitude. Maya’s supervisor, assistant store manager Loovetta Barnes, said that Maya is a great employee.

“I just love her,” said Barnes.

JobOne Careers Director Anne Hochstein said that Maya came to her job-ready.

“We helped her with her resume and made sure she knew how to interview and had basic job skills,” said Hochstein. “Then we needed to find something with flexibility so she could go to school.”

Although the Careers program is only 18 months old, JobOne has been around for 40 years. The Grandview location, which started as the Foundation Workshop, has been in existence since 1981. It merged with IBS Industries, a similar agency operating in Independence and Blue Springs. Today, JobOne employs 260 disabled individuals and 40 staff members at 14 locations throughout Jackson County. There are three workshops where employees complete sub-contracted jobs, a recycling center in Grandview, a document shredding business in Independence, and the new JobOne Careers being piloted in Grandview.

“We partner with Vocational Rehabilitation with the goal of helping individuals who have a disability but want to work in the community,” Hochstein explained. “Sometimes it might be someone who is already in the JobOne program who is ready to take that next step. Or, it may be someone like Maya who already has those capabilities and is transitioning out of high school.

JobOne Careers works on referrals from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a program under the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. VR is designed to assist individuals with physical or mental impairments, providing services including guidance and counseling, vocational training, job-seeking skills and job placement.

JobOne also works with the Developmental Disability Services of Jackson County, known as “eitas,” which stands for “empowering individuals through advocacy and support.” VR and eitas are the major funders of the JobOne Careers program.

Rofique Miller is a Customized Employment Specialist for JobOne Careers. He and Hochstein set up information interviews with prospective employers to find out more about the businesses and what kinds of skills they require. They might also discuss how to make a workplace more accessible to a disabled employee. If accommodations are needed, they help employers figure out what could be done.

“When I meet with businesses, I want to learn what they need,” said Hochstein. “We don’t want to send a person who is not a good fit for a business any more than they want us to.”

Some clients don’t know what they want to do, so Hochstein and Miller will set up job shadows.

“Some of our clients don’t have work experience, so they are guessing about what might interest them,” said Hochstein.

“My job is to help our clients find employment that is based upon their interests,” Miller added.

Once a client is placed in a permanent position, JobOne keeps the case open for one year, staying in touch with the employee. JobOne staff members check in with the family, as well. Support is provided should a client lose a job, and help is given to find a new one. Permanent, meaningful employment is the ultimate goal.

There are challenges for the JobOne Careers program, as well. Cristy Carpenter, JobOne Employee Services Director, said, “Transportation is the biggest hurdle in our area.”

Currently, clients in the program are responsible for their own transportation. Sometimes that limits potential placements if the client depends on public transportation. For example, someone who lives in Grandview but needs public transportation to the warehouses in Lenexa is out of luck.

“Sometimes there are people we want to help, but there are too many barriers,” Hochstein said, “and we can’t help them reach their goals.”

“Helping individuals tackle a challenge and helping them remove that barrier is my biggest reward,” added Miller. Helping employers see that there are advantages to hiring employees with disabilities is also important to Miller. “We want to focus on what they can bring to the table,” he said.

The excitement of people getting a job who haven’t previously had work is special for Hochstein. 
“The pride they feel when they get a job for the first time is the pride I feel,” she said.

The JobOne Careers staff wants to educate employers. Since JobOne offered primarily sheltered workshops in the past, they want the business community to be more open to inclusion in the workplace, and not just because it’s federally mandated.

“It’s good for the business and it’s good for the individual,” said Carpenter.

“It’s the right thing to do,” added Hochstein.

Hochstein, Miller and Carpenter are all proud of Maya’s accomplishments. They see Maya as a shining star to what the program is about.  Maya is already scoping out her next job. She’s interested in bagging at the store, but is hoping her education will help her find a full-time job someday. Hochstein is pleased with Maya’s placement and considers her a big success.

“She’s a breath of fresh air,” said Hochstein.

Businesses in Grandview and South Kansas City that would like to learn more about JobOne Careers can contact Anne Hochstein at 816-763-7822, ext. 706, or ahochstein@job1one.org.

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