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Whatever It Takes:
Grant number, name, and location: Whatever It Takes, Hempstead NY, E-9-4-2-0097
Grant recipient: Town of Hempstead Workforce Investment Board
Project lead: Abilities, Inc., Albertson, NY
Partners: Hempstead Workforce Investment Board; Department of Occupational Resources; Abilities, Inc. at the National Center for Disability Services; NYS Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities; Nassau County Board of Cooperative Education Services; Education Assistance Corporation; Drake Beam Morin, Inc. (outplacement consulting and career transition services); Goodwill Industries; Economic Opportunity Commission; National Council on Aging; and other mandated partners
The New York Customized Employment project enhanced the capacity of the HempsteadWorks One-Stop Career Center to provide seamless and quality employment services for people with significant disabilities. Called the Whatever It Takes (WIT) project, this initiative evolved from the town of Hempstead Workforce Investment Board's quality assurance program for the local One-Stop system. The project aimed to increase access to and use of the HempsteadWorks system by individuals with disabilities through system enhancements, increased funding, and efficient leveraging of resources. Employment services were provided at the HempsteadWorks Career Center in Hempstead, NY and at Abilities, Inc. at the National Center for Disability Services in Albertson. The project established a comprehensive model of service delivery by providing Customized Employment services and implementing universal design strategies.
- Expanding the tools and strategies with which systems provide employment services allows customization of service delivery to better meet the needs of an individual job seeker and employer. Two examples of tools that have shown their effectiveness in the employment process are developing CD-ROM portfolios as alternate methods of job seeker representation, and negotiating with employers for a good job fit.
- Having Social Security disability benefits planning resource located within the One-Stop is crucial. In addition, One-Stops must address the Social Security systemic disincentives for beneficiaries to work to their maximum potential.
The first step in assisting customers with leveraging system resources was to identify the array of employment resources available. To this end, the project compiled a comprehensive HempsteadWorks resource matrix. The manual included information about mandated and non-mandated partners within the system, the services they provided, eligibility criteria, and funding opportunities. The resource manual was accessible to all partners within the system, and enhanced communication and collaboration among providers. In addition to the project partners described below, traditional and nontraditional resources were available through the manual, including Able-Ride Long Island Bus Service, Unemployment Insurance, Community Resources Database of Long Island, Veterans Service Agency, Face Academy, Northern Lights Clubhouse, and Economic Opportunity Commission of Nassau County. The project accessed these resources throughout project implementation, as relevant for participating in the strategic planning team, coordinating services, and building capacity.
Primary partners included Abilities, Inc.; Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID), the public vocational rehabilitation program; the disability program navigator, funded through a joint initiative of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Labor; and the Town of Hempstead Department of Occupational Resources (DOOR), the operator of the HempsteadWorks One-Stop system. Additional linkages were established with the Center for Independent Living, United Cerebral Palsy, and the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped. Abilities, Inc., the primary subcontractor and community rehabilitation provider, became a formal WIA training vendor, expanding training options for any customer who could benefit from a more hands-on, less academic approach to learning. Project staff believed that this vendor status would facilitate further collaboration and offer additional training opportunities for persons with disabilities with the support of Individual Training Accounts (ITAs).
The disability program navigator at HempsteadWorks continued to update the resource matrix and educate One-Stop staff and partners about disability- and employment-related issues. The navigator was an invaluable resource to the project, assisting any customer with a disability who might face barriers achieving an employment goal, by providing up-to-date information about services and programs in the community and coordinating services through those agencies. The navigator also was helpful in locating resources for customers with disabilities, such as transportation assistance, childcare, clothing, and support groups.
Leveraging Resources for Customers
All One-Stop customers, including those with disabilities, were introduced to the vast array of programs and resources available within the system and might be referred to the WIT program for Customized Employment services if appropriate. WIT project participants were also enrolled in WIA to ensure full access to resources. The Hempstead Town Workforce Investment Board (WIB) established this policy to ensure that project participants be tracked in WIA Title I data and have access to all funding options, including ITAs. The WIB had an existing policy to include people with disabilities among those who received "priority for service." In an effort to leverage additional funding and services, the One-Stop provided customers with disabilities information about the option for referral to VESID and other partner agencies that might be able to provide services using a blended funding approach.
As the primary subcontractor of the project, Abilities, Inc. provided an array of Customized Employment and support services to participants, facilitated trainings to enhance the capacity of the One-Stop system, and coordinated braided service delivery. A VESID counselor was assigned as a liaison to HempsteadWorks, and was also instrumental in helping coordinate services for customers. For example, an email group was established to facilitate open communication, share monthly job development updates, and keep VESID, WIT, and One-Stop counselors informed of their customers' progress toward employment. Sharing forms and materials also decreased duplication and streamlined intake/co-referral processes. An additional effective collaboration between VESID and HempsteadWorks implemented cost sharing, with VESID supplementing funds for eligible customers who had reached the ITA dollar amount cap.
Resource coordination among non-mandated partners became more important as customers with disabilities increased their utilization of the One-Stop. The disability program navigator at HempsteadWorks was key to the coordination of resources for customers with disabilities. The navigator worked collaboratively with project staff to ensure that customers who faced barriers to achieving their employment goals received up-to-date information about services and programs in their community. The navigator also promoted effective coordination of those services, including Customized Employment.
Upon referral to WIT, pre-intake meetings occurred that identified job seeker needs. WIA counselors participated in these meetings, as they provided the opportunity for counselors to receive more immediate, concrete feedback regarding referrals, and to become more familiar with Customized Employment concepts and strategies. Customers who did not have clear employment goals were provided person-centered employment planning. This alternative to traditional assessment and planning processes identified interests, abilities, and supports that might be accessed to ensure success.
All participants receiving SSI/SSDI were educated about the availability of Benefits Planning, Assistance, & Outreach (BPAO) services and referred when applicable. WIT staff and the navigator referred beneficiaries for BPAO counseling utilizing a formalized referral system. During this process, consent forms were signed that enabled the benefits counselor to streamline and expedite services in a more organized fashion. The referring counselor also ensured that BPAO staff established initial appointments, and that Benefit Reports were understood by the job seeker.
HempsteadWorks held a job club for customers with disabilities, which was facilitated by Abilities, Inc. staff. Topics offered included disclosure of a disability in the employment process, alternate strategies for exploring vocational interests, completing job applications, and writing resumes.
An essential element in Customized Employment is negotiating job duties to align the skills and interests of a job seeker to an employer's needs. This is significantly different from the typical job matching strategies of the One-Stop system, such as responding to job orders. Based on the information elicited through an individual's person-centered planning process, WIT staff identified specific potential employers. By identifying applicants' skills and understanding employers' business needs, project staff created and carved jobs for HempsteadWorks customers through negotiations with these employers.
Through their experiences with the WIT project, HempsteadWorks partners became more comfortable helping customers to achieve their goals through a blended funding service model. The following examples illustrate how Customized Employment strategies and collaborative service delivery resulted in successful employment for HempsteadWorks customers:
- Once enrolled in WIA, one customer received ITA monies for a training program in the field of certified systems administration. WIT project funding covered his initial transportation costs for the daily commute. This customer, who was also an SSI recipient, received BPAO services that educated him about the SSI Impairment-Related Work Expense work incentive. This incentive offset some additional transportation expenses he incurred due to his disability. When the customer completed his training, the WIT program placement specialist and WIA counselor worked collaboratively to help create a job that suited his strengths and abilities.
- A walk-in customer of the One-Stop had struggled with maintaining employment because of her schizophrenia. She had become discouraged with the job search process and was looking for a housecleaning position. After some person-centered career planning, staff discovered that she had additional interests and experiences. Identifying these contributions raised her expectations of herself, and she has since succeeded as a home health aide.
- An SSI recipient with mental health issues received a vocational evaluation, training, and transportation services funded through VESID. The Office of Mental Health and HempsteadWorks provided service coordination, and the WIT project provided additional funds for transportation to internship sites and job interviews, as well as vocational counseling and job placement assistance.
- After attending a medical billing training course through WIT funding, one customer established a home-based medical billing position to meet the needs of a local chiropractor.
CD-ROM portfolios offer an innovative and professional method for job seekers to present their skills to potential employers by giving a unique perspective of the job candidate by showcasing abilities in a positive light. This innovative way of conveying candidates to employers can provide opportunities for creating advantages for job seekers with disabilities. The method can help an employer feel more at ease with the prospect of hiring a candidate with a disability by observing their competence and contributions toward the business prior to an initial meeting.
The WIT project produced CD-ROM portfolios for several of their job seekers, using funds from customer individual accounts to purchase services through a media specialist. Each CD included a video clip of the job seeker at work, using assistive technology if applicable, and a brief introduction that showcased their job skills, identified their vocational background and goals, and highlighted transportation options. The CD also featured the job seeker's resume, including an option for the employer to download and print the document. An additional tab within the CD gave information about WIT project services, as well as links to the websites of both HempsteadWorks and Abilities, Inc.
Electronic portfolios offer a variety of options for employer viewing. For example, job seekers can supplement a typical resume by including a website link to their portfolio. These portfolios can also be left with an employer at initial contact for use at the employer's convenience. This stands out from the typical resume and demonstrates an advanced level of professionalism. Job seekers can also display a CD portfolio during an interview, bringing a laptop to an employer meeting in the event that the opportunity for a quick demo of the technology (and hence, the job seeker) presents itself.
In Hempstead, electronic portfolios were instrumental in highlighting job seekers' skill sets. One employer was left a CD portfolio for viewing on her own time. Upon follow-up, the employer indicated that she was impressed with the quality of the job candidate as well as the CD-ROM itself. Later, it was revealed that the tool played an important part in the hiring of this employee. To view examples of job seeker CD portfolios, visit the HempsteadWorks website: www.hempsteadworks.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=WITCDs.