Program Helps People Create Businesses
Since the Montana/Wyoming Careers Through Partnerships Project began in July 1998, more
than 160 job seekers with physical and cognitive impairments have joined the work force,
either by taking existing jobs or by carving their own opportunities for self-employment.
An initial $562,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor enabled project
participants to accept traditional employment and find their niche for success.
Sidebar Program Leads to Self-Sufficiency
Melissa C. is an example of how the project works. In November 1999, Melissa, a
23-year-old American Indian woman born with fetal alcohol syndrome, asked the Careers
Through Partnerships Project to help her buy the necessary supplies to start a business in
Great Falls creating, packaging and selling gourmet dog biscuits. The project provided
$6,300 for baking equipment and office supplies and additional funds for a business
license, liability insurance and advertising.
In her advertising for Lissies Luv Yums, Melissa has incorporated a public
service announcement about fetal alcohol syndrome, encouraging mothers to abstain from
drinking during pregnancy.
As Lissies Luv Yums grows, Melissa plans to offer a mix so pet owners can make
their own dog biscuits. She also plans to use the Internet to market her dog biscuits
Careers Through Partnerships is administered by Montana Job Training Partnership Inc.,
a nonprofit agency in Helena that coordinates the distribution of grants that fund
work-force investment and job-training programs in Montana and Wyoming. The agency works
with UMs Rural Institute on Disabilities and the University of Wyoming in Laramie to
provide these services.
As director of special projects for the Rural Institute, Cary Griffin works on the Department of Labors
initiative to help people with disabilities enter or re-enter the work force. The
institutes training office collaborates with DOL to operate one of 15 department
projects funded throughout the nation. Only two operate west of the Mississippi.
We wrote the project, and the DOL funded it, Griffin says. We do a
lot of partnerships like this.
After the first year, the department granted Careers Through Partnerships $450,000 to
continue. In the third year, another $450,000 came in.
They liked the outcome so much, they funded us for a third year, Griffin
says. Its unheard of.
Among the 15 U.S. projects funded by the department, Montanas project has the
best outcomes, despite being the state with the worst economy, Griffin says.
With roughly $3,500 to $5,000 provided for each program participant, the investment is
far less than providing university and technical courses, which may not lead to employment
because of barriers to disabilities. That is one reason why about 50 percent of the
participants choose self-employment.
Theres an idea that small-business owners are entrepreneurs working
80 hours a week, doing Initial Public Offerings on the Internet, he says. Not
Roger Shelley, a Rural Institute organizational consultant in Red Lodge for the past
three years, is excited about the opportunity to work with DOL. With fewer restrictions
attached to the money, he believes that states can do more.
The Department of Labor wanted people to be employed and was less specific than
other federal agencies, he says.
Focusing on personal choice and flexibility, CTP hosts employment simulation workshops
and works on the regional Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) and Social Security work
Griffin says client contact gives trainers a better idea of how to proceed.
When working with severely disabled people, we must figure out what they want to
do, he says. We try to figure out what makes sense in their lives.
We have isolated disabled people in the work force. A lot of our mission is to
get people out of isolation and segregation.
Shelley agrees, adding, The really interesting thing is
this program is
based on customer choice more than anything else. We find that regardless of disability
and age, most people know what they want to do or have an interest in something. Our job
is to figure out how to facilitate that choice.
Careers Through Partnerships has made a difference in the way agencies, including the
Rural Institute, could help people with disabilities find employment.
If there were disabled people looking for employment, Shelley explains
we would give money to agencies such as independent living centers, human resource
development councils, sheltered workshops, rehabilitation programs and mental-health
Outreach focuses on services such as updating resumes, learning interview skills and
completing job applications.
Typically the idea was to go through training, apply and get the job,
Griffin says. Then the employer trains. That doesnt work when people with
cognitive impairments enter the work force.
On the other hand, much of the Careers Through Partnerships money has gone toward job
coaching after employment and providing transportation help to get people to their jobs.
Tools and appropriate clothing also are made available, Shelley points out.
Participants are regularly tracked from 90 to 360 days after exiting the program.
We find that not only their wages but also their hours go up, Shelley says.
Part of it is people are able to work more. They build stamina.
A September survey found that of the 84 people who finished the program, 69 percent
were working for an average wage of $7.11 per hour for 28 hours a week. Studies show that
in 12 months that usually increased to $7.79 per hour and a 38-hour work week.
To read more success stories or to find out more about the program, visit: www.wdsc.org/disability/index.html.