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Community Employment Takes Off with Little City Work Programs

Kevin M. holds a dog during his volunteer experience at Anderson Animal Shelter. Community volunteering is one of the many tools Little City uses to get people ready for community employment.

Gustavo P. wants to start his own maintenance service one day. It may only seem like a dream for a person with developmental disabilities, but thanks to Little City, Gus has taken the first steps to make it a reality.

Gus is a prime example of the possibilities that Little City’s Employee Development Services program can accomplish in conjunction with Little City’s Employment First Program. Together, those two programs can help someone like Gus move from the work at Church Creek Senior Living and a plethora of job hopefuls started valuable volunteer work in the community at places like the Anderson Animal Shelter to get a taste of what community employment would require.

The transformation has been incredible to witness for Wendy Mayfield, site director at the Countryside Center, who has known people like Jillian and David before the merger with Little City. For someone like Jillian who had worked at a Panera as part of a school program before graduating, Wendy said it was great to see her get back into the food service industry she is passionate about.

“The way we have the process setup now helps people on an individual level,” Wendy said of the multi-tiered approach to vocational skill work that happens on-site at Countryside Center to a five-day a week maintenance job at the Wyndham Hotel.

“I love my job,” Gus said. “I want to have my own business one day.”

Gustavo’s success was not an exception in 2018, it became the norm for many of Little City’s prospective employees. People like Jillian G. and David K. both earned community jobs at two separate Culver’s locations, Kerri M. started community employment. “Some people may need to work on interview skills, others may need to work on social skills but we can work on that through this program and get them ready.”

That crucial process starts with the Employee Development Services (EDS) program.

The EDS program is designed to help people transition from recreational, leisure and foundational life skills programs to community employment. Whether they come from the Countryside Center’s piece-work program or from the horticulture program on the main campus, supervisors try to identify people with the potential skills to land a community job.

EDS is currently comprised of 30 program participants, with about 10 each coming from the main campus, Countryside Center and Lakeside Center. The program is a mixture of standardized employment curriculum, paid work training and volunteerism.

Once an individual demonstrates success in EDS, they move on for referral to the Division of Rehabilitation, which partners with Little City to fund job development and placement in the Employment First Program.

Jillian G. has become a valued member of the Culver’s family thanks to the skills she learned through Little City’s Employee Development Services. She can often be seen giving food recommendations to customers and putting a smile on the faces of all those around her.

The Employment First Program focuses exclusively on assisting individuals with all types of disabilities to enter the workforce. A job developer teams with the potential employee to go over interests, past work experience, and skills to determine the jobs best suited for the person. The developer then remains in place, assisting in building natural supports and providing the level of coaching required for the employed to become independent.

One of those job developers is Kristina Popoca who helped Jillian and Gus land their jobs. She said both have transitioned seamlessly into community work and have inspired co-workers and raised the morale. She said it isn’t uncommon to walk into Culver’s and see Jillian giving food recommendations to the customers and having pleasant interactions with everyone.

“It’s been great so far and the ultimate goal is to phase me out completely,” Kristina said. “Once they have the skills to be completely independent, my site visits will continue to go down until I don’t need to do them at all.”

The same success can be said about Kerri and David, who have found incredible support from both Church Creek and Culver’s staff, respectively. Their job coach, Rebecca Schachter, said both employers took a very hands-on approach in training and job coaching and it has helped them both grow as employees and take on more responsibility.

“Culver’s and Church Creek have gone above and beyond to welcome, support, accommodate and integrate David and Kerri into their work environments,” Rebecca said. “Both employers were open to coaching, asked how they could better communicate with David and Kerri, as well as looked for ways to improve their overall training, all of which benefit their staff and not just David and Kerri.”

With Kerri and David being part of the initial EDS class, their success is sure to lay the foundation for many more of Little City’s job seekers to find employment success in 2019 and beyond.

“Little City uses an affirming message – that it’s a good world, there’s a place for my kids in the world and Little City will help them find it.”

Rachel, mother of children receiving home-based support services