Archive for Monday, September 2, 2013

Youth Employment Program opens doors for youth with disabilities to land jobs

September 2, 2013


Nathan Ruth, who works at Hobby Lobby through the Youth Employment Program at Independence Inc., dusts furniture on Thursday, August 29, 2013.

Nathan Ruth, who works at Hobby Lobby through the Youth Employment Program at Independence Inc., dusts furniture on Thursday, August 29, 2013.

Like a lot of teenage boys, Zach Herries had a tricked-out truck, a passion for fast cars and a desire to work someplace where he could tinker under the hood.

But unlike a lot of teenage boys, Herries also has cerebral palsy, which made a few employers uncomfortable hiring him. But not Steve Bruce, owner of Steve Bruce Welding and Fabrication, which builds some of the fastest drag racing cars in the world.

For a boy like Herries who is into fast cars, Bruce said, “This is the candy store.”

Through Independence Inc.’s Youth Employment Program, or YEP, Bruce provided Herries with an 80-hour work trial during which the teen gained valuable job experience, a mentor and his very first paycheck.

YEP connects 15- to 21-year-old students from Lawrence, Eudora and Baldwin who have physical, developmental or sensory disabilities to jobs. The students gain life and work skills, build confidence and earn income.

A paycheck builds self esteem

The goal is to help them take the important first step toward becoming more self sufficient.

“Some of these students have been told ‘you can’t’ all their lives,” shared Ranita Wilks, YEP employment coordinator for Independence Inc. “After you see them go out and try, and see their potential and possibilities, there is a personality change. They get their first paycheck. It builds self esteem.”

As employers work with the YEP students, their attitudes toward employing people with disabilities usually changes, too, Wilks said. “A lot of people who may have had some concerns because they haven’t hired a person with disabilities before, the next time they won’t have the level of uncertainty and give the student a chance.”

Wilks works with area high schools to identify students who would flourish in the program. She finds out what types of jobs fit the students’ skills and career interests, then hunts for employers who can provide the students with enriching work trials.

The students’ minimum wage salaries are paid by Independence Inc. using funds from the United Way of Douglas County. After the students complete the work trials, they are often hired by the employers or are able to find another job using the skills and experience they gained during the work trails.

Education, self sufficiency and health

YEP is having a huge impact in the lives of students and employers. Between 2008 and 2012, when the program lost its funding, 78 students were involved. In 2013, YEP was re-launched, fueled by funds from the United Way Self Sufficiency Goal. In addition, United Way connected Independence Inc. with other agencies that shared the goal of helping Douglas County residents move toward independence and financial stability.

As a result, YEP now includes a collaboration with The ARC of Douglas County, which provides advocacy and support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The ARC now gives parents of YEP students the support they need to help their children succeed in the workforce.

“The United Way is working toward creating long-term change in our community by ensuring everyone in Douglas County can achieve education, self sufficiency and health. Under our self sufficiency community impact goal, we are working with partners like Independence Inc. and The ARC that share a common interest, helping them collaborate so they can serve more people and have a greater impact on the community,” said Erika Dvorske, president and CEO of the United Way of Douglas County.

The ARC developed a series of classes for parents of YEP students that helps them navigate a host of critical issues, like how to access support services and protect their children’s income, said Barbara Bishop, executive director of The ARC. The classes are taught by subject-matter experts and are offered free to parents because of United Way funds.

In the first few months since YEP re-launched, three students landed permanent jobs. Herries will be a freshman at the University of Central Missouri this fall. And six additional students are engaged in work trials.

“We really believe in this program – this is what independence is all about,” said Stacey Hunter Schwartz, Executive Director of Independence Inc. “It’s the beginning of a career ladder for the students. We want people with disabilities to become contributing, tax-paying members of our community.”

Micki Chestnut is director of communications for the United Way of Douglas County.


hedshrinker 4 years, 9 months ago

"Help" must be a collaborative practice: desired by the individual, informed by their goals and proceeding at their pace. This is an inspiring program...I'm assuming the staff didn't go out on the street, identify prospective clients and foist help on them whether or not they want it. Renita Wilks is a jewel and provides knowledgeable, caring, compassionate services and she knows of what she speaks as she has her own struggles. I'll say to@ reaviewmirror the same thing I say in other circumstances: "don't want a ......, then don't have one, but don't prevent others who DO want a .......from the opportunity."

Scott Morgan 4 years, 9 months ago

Many many moons ago I was involved in placing IEP students in jobs. Really a long time ago. A large paper manufacturing company I will not mention, but rhymes with Himberly Hark, allowed me to put a student in the plant on a test basis. He was paid by funds not unlike the YEP program here.

With fingers crossed my hope was he would gain some employment skills, and improve his marketability. Received a call from the paper mill about the student a few days later. My heart raced, and sadly thinking I needed to pick him up due to some problem.


The plant foreman gushed with all sorts of compliments, including the then senior volunteered to work what was called the wetroom. Taking bark off trees with high powered water hose. Loud, dirty, and exhausting work. The youth worked his tail off, volunteered for more hours, and even back then showed up on time, everyday a skill modern youth should practice.

The foreman asked me if they could do away with the program and hire him part time. This changed after graduation with him becoming a union paper worker. Lost track of him a few years ago, but was on schedule to retire from this high paying job.

Life changing.

Go YEP program and folks like Bruce! Like the paper-mill plant foreman, it's people like Bruce who make these programs work.

Jillian Andrews 4 years, 9 months ago

Great program! People with disabilities have double the unemployment rate as non-disabled folks. If people want to grouse about "moochers" receiving benefits from social programs, then they should work very hard to make sure there are employment opportunities available to people with disabilities. MOST people WANT to work.

Armstrong 4 years, 9 months ago

I have dealt with many "disabled individuals" in the past. Experience has shown you will have a hard time finding someone else with a stronger work ethic and dedication to doing a job to the best of their ability then the people I have had the privilege of being associated with. Great article. Thank you.

hedshrinker 4 years, 9 months ago

@ armstrong,thank you for yr straightforward (ie non-politically slanted) positive comment on this topic...I don't think I have ever agreed w u before about anything, and I'm glad it's on this subject matter, showing that when people of different political and faith paths have a task in front of them which involves getting together to help other people, our common humanity shines through.

Chris Ogle 4 years, 9 months ago

Sounds like a great program. If a person wants to work...... then why not. Some of the best employees are people that want to work, and yes most people with disabilities really do want to work.

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