Maryland WorkFORCE Promise:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts
Grant number, name, and location: Maryland WorkFORCE Promise, Frederick MD, #E-9-493-0073
Grant recipient: Way Station, Inc.
Project lead: Way Station, Inc.
Subcontractors and partners: MD Department of Disabilities; MD Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; MD Division of Rehabilitation Services; MD Developmental Disabilities Administration; MD Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation; MD Division of Workforce Development; Frederick Community College (One-Stop operator); Independence Now (ILC); TransCen
Maryland Workforce Promise is a WorkFORCE Action grant received through Way Station, a provider of mental health employment, housing, and day supports in Frederick, MD. In addition to the broad scope of work it manages, Way Station enjoys close partnerships with the Frederick County Business and Employment Center; the Department of Disabilities; the Department of Rehabilitation Services; the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; the Division of Developmental Disabilities; the Department of Education; and the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (through which WIA funds are managed). These partnerships have been a key feature of the grant's success throughout its span.
- A good strategy for broad systems change is to strike a balance between effective services provision and the necessary linkages to policy implementers.
- eLearning provides an easy and sustainable way to ensure ongoing staff training in the face of high turnover, low training budgets, and limited staff time.
- Self-employment is a meaningful customized outcome for individuals who otherwise face significant challenges in the standard job market. It can also catalyze broad local service partnerships.
The Maryland Workforce Promise project was spearheaded by the staff of Way Station, a prominent mental health service provider in Frederick, MD. However, the best efforts were collaborative, based on Way Station's reputation and capacity for coordinating multilateral projects. The grant's collaborative work resulted in the following products and efforts.
The Employment System Transformation Committee
Project staff helped coordinate the Employment System Transformation steering committee by using existing ties to the state Department of Disabilities, the Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Division of Developmental Disabilities, the Department of Education, and the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (through which WIA funds were managed). The committee's stated purpose was to "initiate a comprehensive examination of the employment service system for Marylanders with disabilities." In addition to the above-named agencies, the committee had representatives from provider agencies, consumers, and advocates.
The steering committee listed the following goals (click here for more information):
- Establish common employment definitions
- Set value-driven outcomes
- Create a vision/map for what the system should look like
- Define initial action steps towards realizing the vision
While the work of the steering committee was ongoing, and was slated to continue long after the grant faded out, it had already resulted in better coordination between various state systems and agencies.
Another powerful tool for sustainability, the project's online learning center convened a number of experts through its partner network. Offerings included (see website):
- Customized Employment
- Social Security Work Incentives
- Interviewing and Hiring People with Disabilities
- Motivational Interviewing
- SSI Calculation Worksheet
- SSDI Calculation Worksheet
Offerings were open to the public and widely distributed throughout Maryland. All materials were relevant nationwide except for the calculation worksheets, which had unique state-level figures.
Each module was designed for both accessibility and universality. Topics offered a wide range of interactive components, opportunities to explore issues in depth, and a skills test. At the time of this report, the project estimated it had reached over 250 learners with modules on Customized Employment and related topics.
Self-Employment for Individuals with Mental Illness
DORS promoted self-employment as a priority for its customers. The RISE project, a DORS self-employment project, had successfully provided support for microenterprise and entrepreneurship for individual with developmental disabilities for years. However, as a DORS-funded project, it had not had the opportunity to support individuals with mental illness. Due in part to the state's collaborative efforts in the Employment State Transformation committee, DORS made the commitment to seek to aggressively serve individuals with mental illness. DORS and Maryland Workforce Promise staff planned to work together to combine resources and expertise for this group of customers.
This pilot project was in its initial stages at the time of this writing, and would likely develop further over the next six months. A key goal for the project was developing a workbook, in conjunction with DORS, to guide DORS and community employment staff through the process of developing self-employment.
In conjunction with the work of Independence Now, a Maryland Independent Living Center, the Workforce Promise project sought to expand the availability of benefits planning services. The project funded an additional benefits planner for Frederick and Northern Montgomery counties, two heavily populated parts of the state. This planner served 149 people. In addition, extensive training was offered to service providers, individuals, and parents on topics including work incentives, disability entitlement advocacy, and youth transition.
The Benefits Planning project was a collaborative effort between Independence Now and Maryland Workforce Promise. Planning services provided in conjunction with the grant were available to both grant customers and others needing assistance through the One-Stop and other workforce development organizations.
Maryland Workforce Promise was a collaborative project in most aspects. Whether through direct employment, self-employment, or benefits planning services; training; or systems change efforts, the project drew on its close partnership with other agencies and organizations. By building capacity in non-grant entities rather than focusing on grant-specific tasks, the project used partnership as a vehicle to sustainability as well as service provision. Staff thought that even after the grant ended the ties it helped build between various agencies, and the benefits that resulted, would continue.