The blog this week was written by Jennifer Goodwill, Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute. Since 1994, The Arcadia Institute has held the mission to make it possible for people with disabilities to be welcomed, supported and respected in our wonderful community. Three years ago, we expanded our work and started on a new journey, Community Brokering. Through Community Brokering, we help individuals work toward their goals of independent living, meaningful activities and competitive employment.
As we have worked with individuals, there is much that we have learned in all three of these areas. But, recently, we have been having more discussions and focus on the area of employment. Employment has always been a component of Community Brokering. We have given it attention according to the priority individuals place on this goal. However, lately, it seems that the goal of having a paying job is the highest priority for many of the individuals with whom we work. Previously, it seemed to be more of a long term goal for many of our participants. They had other goals related to independent living and meaningful activities that they wanted to work on first.
As I think more about this, I realize it makes sense that more of the individuals are ready to tackle their long term goal of employment. These are individuals we have had the opportunity to work with for awhile now. One of the strengths and unique qualities about Community Brokering is the holistic approach we take to working with an individual. We are not an employment service whose sole focus must be on finding someone a job. We are intentional about getting to know the whole person, which gives us a much better perspective on the bigger picture of their life.
By using the tools of a MAP and our Follow Alongs, we are able to see all the different parts of a person’s life and how they need to work together in order for the person to be successful in reaching their goals. For instance, one individual said she would like to get a paid job someday in the future. But to start, she really just wanted to volunteer somewhere in the community. She needed to build confidence and develop independence by experiencing life in the community outside of her parents and school. After talking about her interests, we introduced her to an organization in town that needed help that matched her specific strengths. We went along with her to get started until she felt comfortable going on her own. The next step was to help her start using public transportation. We scheduled Metro County Connect to take her home from her volunteer job. The first couple of times, I rode with her. As she felt more comfortable, she rode the van by herself, but I met her at her pick up and drop off points. Today, she uses Metro County Connect to get to and from her volunteer job, and she schedules the rides herself. She told me, with a smile, that she feels more independent today. I think these were important steps that she needed to go through so that we can get to the point of seriously talking about her goal to be employed one day.
Another example is an individual who was applying for many different jobs, but he was not getting any job offers. With his community circle, we were able to work with him on speaking confidently and understanding his strengths. We were also able to talk about who would be his references on applications and how he would overcome the challenge of having transportation if he needed to work on a Sunday, when the buses do not run. We had the benefit of bringing the people in his life together to problem solve and talk through the challenges he was facing in his job hunt.
Doing this upfront work of getting to know an individual and involving the people in their community who are supportive of them, allows us to help the person build a foundation to support them in moving toward their desirable future. It makes sense that it may take time for some people to feel confident in saying they are ready to turn their long term goal of employment into an action step they will start working on today. I feel fortunate to be working in a job where I can invest time in going alongside an individual and help them work through the steps that will move them forward. It takes time, but it has a sustainable impact on their future.