HR AveryA grant used to place disabled high schoolers in the workforce helped this young man get a job at a hospital.
A federal grant helps people with disabilities find jobs.
By Briana Altergott
Finding jobs has been tough in this economy, but it’s even more difficult for high school graduates with disabilities.
Luckily, people like John Savage, the director of employment services at Alternative Community Training in Columbia, have recognized the unique circumstances that people with disabilities face when looking for work. ACT provides opportunities for the disabled so they can be fully participating members of the community.
And now, thanks to a $65,000 grant distributed over three years from Show-Me-Careers, ACT and its community partners will be able to more effectively spread the word about this largely untapped workforce.
Show-Me-Careers is a group of disability-related organizations funded through a grant by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
Seven other organizations and communities will receive funding, including the L.I.F.E. Center for Independent Living in Farmington; Learning Opportunities/Quality Works in Macon, Kirksville, and Moberly; the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center in Joplin; United Cerebral Palsy in Manchester; Access II in Gallatin; and St. Charles and Platte counties.
“We all work, and it starts early for most people,” Savage says. “We’re trying to change the expectations for people with disabilities because so much of our society is tied to what you do for a living and to your income as well.”
For years, Savage and the rest of the ACT team have been working to help young people with disabilities transition from high school to the workforce. ACT works extensively with Missouri businesses and community partners to inform them of the benefits of hiring young people with disabilities onto their staff.
“Our mission is to help people realize their full potential,” Savage says.
ACT and the Show-Me-Careers partners plan to use the grant money to help achieve three separate initiatives.
First, they hope to use the money to make the business community aware of the dedication, loyalty, and low turnover rates that young people with disabilities can add to their staff. They plan to do this through forums, breakfasts, and roundtable discussions with local business owners.
They also are working with the school districts to encourage an employment-first mind-set among the students. “School is structured, but when you graduate, it’s your responsibility to find information about jobs,” Savage says. “You have to have that early work experience to help make connections in the work force for when you are looking for a job later on.”
Recently, Savage helped a young man with disabilities named Avery make connections during his time with STEP, a Boone Hospital internship program.
The hospital offered the high school senior a position in the linen department before he finished school, and he will be graduating early to take the job.
The grant money will also be used to better coordinate services among participating organizations. Each program can share its successes and failures with one another in order to learn from the experiences of others.
“Having the ability to tap into others’ knowledge bases during this project is very valuable,” Savage says. “The goal is for all of us to make this work, to make this happen.”