The Arc of the Bay: Thinking Outside the Box to Improve their Chapter and Community

Ron Sharpe, Executive Director of The Arc of the Bay, stands smiling in front of a sign with the chapter's name on it.

The Arc of the Bay in Florida has had an exciting few months! In 2017, the chapter affiliated and branded with the national office – executed seamlessly by their executive director Ron Sharpe. This past month, the chapter participated in a summit focused on transitioning from facility-based to community-based employment. Ron reflected with us on the challenges and opportunities that strengthen and propel his chapter forward as they continue to advance our universal mission of inclusion for all.

 

First, we wanted to formally welcome you to our chapter network; your chapter recently rebranded and joined forces with the national office! What initiated that process?

We were strategically planning on how we were going to celebrate and fully maximize our upcoming 60th anniversary in 2017. We had a focus group & graduate students from our local Florida State University – Panama City Campus provide research & feedback that while we have been in Bay County, FL for 60 years, many families and businesses still didn’t know who we were, St. Andrew Bay Center, and what our mission was. We were already affiliated with The Arc of Florida, and when we reviewed what The Arc of the U.S. had to offer, we knew it would only strengthen our daily operations with the wide range of resources that would be made available to our agency…including branding and name recognition. 2017 represented the largest overall growth that we have experienced within the past 10 years in every facet of our business model…double-digit increases in our ADT enrollment, Supported Employment services and including our overall fundraising.

At the end of last month, you attended the Provider Transformation Network Summit in DC on transitioning from facility-based employment to community-based employment programs, along with four other chapters. What motivated you to attend, and what were some of your takeaways?

I attended the PTN Summit hoping to learn from other leaders within those four chapters in what they found to be successful or not within their communities within this transition. I was able to hear that we are all experiencing some of the same struggles and opportunities, but learned of different or new ideas to hopefully getting new results. We all came from different levels of years of experience, but through our ideas and building relationship, we now have another resource network to continue to build upon as we continue to work through this transition.

The national landscape is changing, with an increasing emphasis on community employment opportunities for individuals with I/DD. How is this affecting the direction of your organization as it relates to employment services? What kind of work are you doing in your chapter to advance community-based, gainful employment for people with I/DD?

The Arc of the Bay has fully embraced this process ranging from implementing an initiative of The Arc of Florida “Dream Inspired Planning” where our individuals shared what their job goals are communicating through pictures on their own dream boards to promoting individuals and their job skills and experience in our local paper every Friday in a section we created and titled “Employment Highlight”. The process with “Dream Inspired Planning” reinforces “self- advocacy and self-determination in setting future goals on what they would like to do. We also use every social media to advocate on behalf our clients, our employers and our staff on the successes made.

Do you have any advice for other chapters looking to strengthen their employment initiatives?

Sounds so simple, but think out of the box when thinking about new employment opportunities! Everything we do is “NETWORKING” and making contacts. Look at civic clubs, like your local Rotary or your chamber of commerce.

The Arc and Walmart Foundation Renew Commitment to Providing Community-Based Employment For People With Disabilities

Washington, DC – The Arc’s employment program, The Arc@Work, is pleased to announce it has received a $325,000, one-year grant from the Walmart Foundation. This funding will be dedicated toward scaling the programs that The Arc@Work and Walmart have created over the past two years to train and place people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in competitive, integrated employment within their communities.

Employment rates for people with disabilities – especially people with I/DD – are critically low compared to people without disabilities. The US Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey (2015) estimates that people with any disability or a cognitive disability are employed at much lower rates (34.3% and 24.8% respectively) than those without disabilities (73.6%). Additionally, the National Core Indicators Survey of 2015-2016 reported that 19% of people with I/DD in the workforce reported having a paid job in the community.

In response to these dire statistics, through funding from the Walmart Foundation, The Arc@Work has  built a successful partnership in working with local chapters of The Arc to provide competitive and community-based employment opportunities and strengthening chapters’ relationships with local businesses since 2016. To do this, The Arc@Work provides technical assistance and an average sub-grant award of $10,000 to chapters of The Arc located across the country that provide community-based employment opportunities.

Over this two-year span, the Walmart Foundation has supported The Arc@Work and chapters of The Arc located across the country in training more than 2,000 individuals and placing more than 800 individuals into competitive and community-based jobs. Additionally, participating chapters of The Arc have forged relationships with nearly 500 local and regional employers to provide trained job candidates and staff training on creating inclusive work environments. This new round of funding will allow for The Arc@Work and chapters of The Arc to achieve even greater impact over the next year.

“For far too long, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been relegated to the margins of the working world. Along with private initiatives, new government regulations promise to dramatically increase the number of people with disabilities placed alongside of people without disabilities in integrated, competitive environments. The support from the Walmart Foundation will allow The Arc to continue to transform the existing pool of talented candidates with disabilities into productive employees,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

When Will Employment First Be a Reality? This Autism Acceptance Month, It’s NOW in Wisconsin

The Arc Wisconsin celebrates a major victory in Wisconsin, the passage of a ground-breaking Employment First bill that will hold state agencies accountable to update and improve policies, set benchmarks and report on their progress to increase the number of people with disabilities in Wisconsin working in competitive integrated employment. One of The Arc Wisconsin’s leading advocates for this legislation was Ashley Mathy of Rhinelander who has autism. In recognition of Wisconsin’s progress and Autism Acceptance Month, Ashley shares with us in her own words why this new law is so important to her and the thousands of people with disabilities in Wisconsin.

By Ashley Mathy

Ashley Mathy - Employment First

Ashley Mathy from Wisconsin, who has autism, stands with Governor Scott Walker after he signed the state’s Employment First law on March 28.

Hello, I am Ashley Mathy a self-advocate who has PDD, NOS (Autism spectrum). I have a simple answer to a question. The question is “When?”. Before I answer, please consider- as you know, the month of April is Autism Acceptance month. Education and awareness of Autism are so important to me personally because of my daily struggles with anxiety, social challenges and much more. So many people look at autism behaviors as strange versus accepting the person and all the wonderful gifts and abilities we can offer this world. On the positive side my challenges with Autism have given me the personal experience needed to share my stories, challenges and successes with so many people. Throughout this journey, it has made me realize that Autism doesn’t define me…it is just a word. The truth is I am a fighter. I am a warrior. I am a leader. I am a friend. I am a daughter. Doctors and teachers believed that I would not be able to work in the community and college would not be a likely option. I have proven doctors and teachers wrong by showing them I can overcome any obstacle that is put in front of me. I believe that you never know how strong you are unless you are put to the test…Autism was my test. Christopher Robin says: “You’re are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think” and who can argue with a Winnie the Pooh expert!! Today, I assist in the Dean’s office at Nicolet College, speak around the State of Wisconsin for disability advocacy and market Soap Sisters which stands for “Sister of Autism Princess”, (a company that my sister and I started) and take classes at Nicolet College.

Ashley Mathy - Employment First

Ashley shared her employment story with many state legislators, including Representative James Edming pictured in this photo in the Wisconsin Capitol, to help get Wisconsin’s law passed.

I am so proud and excited to be part of promoting the Employment First Law. Integrated employment for people with disabilities is by far my biggest advocacy goal. I personally know so many people with special needs that want to work AND contribute to their community, PLUS they want to make a positive impact in this world. We have so many talents they we can bring to the table such as being a reliable employee, positive can-do attitude and very hard worker. People with disabilities have that “fire” to get the job done to the best of their abilities while making every attempt to overcome any obstacles in a job.

Personally, I struggled with finding the right job for my skills and abilities. I got caught between the priorities of all the agencies helping me find a job. After much determination, I found several jobs that are a perfect fit for me. With the passage of the Employment First bill, the agencies will be required to work together and develop a joint plan with the same goal in mind; securing employment for people with special needs. This teamwork will be a powerful tool for Wisconsin to move forward and for individuals to take their rightful place in the community and workforce.

I believe the key to success in life is everyone working together towards the same common goal. The passage of this Employment First Bill and the determination of people with special needs along with the support of employers and agencies… will make a difference in lives, and ensure a WIN- TOGETHER! The answer to the question of, “When?”. My simple answer is, NOW- RIGHT NOW.

The Arc Receives Support from Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation for National Disability Employment Program

Washington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce that its national employment program, The Arc@Work, has received an additional $122,000 over the next two years from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation to support its ongoing efforts to expand its partner program with Specialisterne®. The Arc@Work and Specialisterne®’s program consists of a four-week intensive training curriculum and on-the-job training designed to equip people with autism with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in entry-level IT jobs. Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation previously supported this project of The Arc with $105,000 in funding from 2015-2017.

The Arc has a partnership with Specialisterne USA®, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization established by a Danish nonprofit organization, The Specialist People Foundation, that works to create meaningful employment for people with autism and similar challenges in the technology sector. The program engages top companies with IT needs interested in hiring young adults with ASD and pairs them with chapters of The Arc that provide the four-week training course, during which participants learn the basics about programming and data management while also improving soft skills. At the end of training, participants are hired into partner organizations as developers, programmers, analysts, and administrators. Employers also receive training on supporting employees with ASD and The Arc@Work and Specialisterne® work together to provide follow-up support for program participants.

Chapters of The Arc in Philadelphia and New York were among the first to adopt the Specialisterne program in 2014, but the program has since been adopted by chapters in Tampa Bay and Washington, DC as well. The 2018-2019 grant from Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation will allow The Arc to expand this crucial program to new regions throughout the country.

“Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation is committed to empowering young people with disabilities,” said Keijiro Hora, President of the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation and CEO and President, Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc. “By continuing to support The Arc’s expansion of the

Specialisterne employment model, we hope to see increased numbers of young people with autism empowered to enter the competitive workforce and live productive lives,” continued Hora.

The program emphasizes that many young adults with ASD are qualified to work in highly skilled positions and, with employer commitment and support, they can thrive in community-based jobs of their choosing.

“There are many young people with ASD that possess the skills that are in high demand in the tech industry. This program plays matchmaker, and through our chapter network, we can not only connect a population we serve with employment in the community but also raise awareness in a major industry about what people with disabilities can do. It’s an exciting initiative and we are thrilled to have the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation’s ongoing support,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

The Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, based in the Washington, DC area, was established in 1991 by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and the Mitsubishi Electric U.S. companies, which produce, sell and distribute a wide range of consumer, industrial, commercial and professional electronics products. The foundation has contributed more than $15 million to organizations that are empowering young people with disabilities to lead more inclusive and productive lives.

The Arc on Bipartisan, Two Year Budget Deal

The Arc is pleased that Congress was able to negotiate a bipartisan budget deal last week.  The deal provides welcome temporary relief for the non-defense discretionary part of the budget that funds a range of programs – such as education, housing, and employment – that help make community living possible for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Further, by raising the debt ceiling though March of 2019, it provides a measure of stability that will allow Congress time to continue to develop appropriations legislation to keep the federal government operating.  However, despite these and many other beneficial provisions, The Arc remains concerned about future efforts to make program cuts in order to deal with the increased spending authorized in the deal and reduced revenue from the tax law enacted in December.

The Arc and the Walmart Foundation: A Successful Year in Assisting People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Find Jobs in the Community

A year ago, The Arc announced the exciting news that it had been awarded $245,000 by the Walmart Foundation to support workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to enter the workforce. The Arc@Work, The Arc’s employment program, quickly got to work with chapters from around the country to make a dent in the unemployment rate for people with I/DD, one job placement at a time.

Shortly after acquiring the grant, The Arc awarded 16 of its chapters subgrants. Each grantee was then charged with developing innovative programs that place job-seekers with I/DD in competitive, integrated employment within their communities. Chapters included were UCP Seguin (IL); The Arc of the Midlands (SC); The Arc of Spokane (WA); The Arc of Anchorage (AK); The Arc of Montgomery County (MD); The Arc of El Paso (TX); The Arc of Monroe County (NY); St. Louis Arc (MO); The Arc of Chester County (PA); Berkshire County Arc (MA); Star, Inc. (CT); The Arc of North Carolina (NC); The Arc Davidson County and Greater Nashville (TN); VersAbility (VA); The Arc of Bristol County (MA); and ADEC (IN). By the end of the grant cycle, The Arc had reached and even surpassed many of the grant’s objectives. As of September 2017, nearly 480 workers with disabilities had secured employment at nearly 360 companies under the program. Additionally, nearly 1,240 individuals with I/DD had undergone training to better prepare them to enter the workforce. Several success stories emerged as the year progressed, including this one about a self-advocate named Danielle from The Arc of Monroe County in Rochester, New York:

When Danielle first began employment services, she exhibited low self-confidence. And throughout the job development process, Danielle struggled with social interactions ranging from phone calls to interviews. As she experienced her first career fair, job interview, and informal meetings with potential employers, her confidence started to grow.

Eventually Danielle received a call for an interview at a local senior facility that would result in a pivotal change in her life’s course. The day before she was scheduled to interview, Danielle and her employment specialist practiced interview questions. The following day, Danielle was stellar during the interview process and performed the best she ever had! Her employment specialist knew when they walked out of the building that she would be offered the job. Danielle was able to engage the interviewer in a funny story and her demeanor and the content of her answers were on point. The following week Danielle was offered a job!

Danielle has been working at the senior facility now for 10 months. Her transformation has been incredible. In late June, Danielle’s astounding professional and personal growth was recognized at an awards ceremony sponsored by The Arc of Monroe County.

Based on this year’s achievement, The Arc was awarded an additional round of funding this past spring. With this support, The Arc hopes to build upon the success it began in 2016.

National Disability Employment Month: Push for Progress

By: Nicole Jorwic, Director of Rights Policy, The Arc of the United States.

October marks National Disability Employment Month – it’s a time to reflect on the progress of making employment for people with disabilities a reality, and to push forward on necessary changes to make that a reality for more individuals throughout the country. People with disabilities have shown their desire to work and thrive in their workplaces and communities. Employers all over the country are also recognizing the potential for people with disabilities in their workplaces and the contributions they can make to the culture of their business, and to the economy.

The Arc@Work is supporting employers large and small across the country with targeted outreach and recruitment, employer staffing solutions, and training and consultation. Much of this work is done on the ground via many of our 650 chapters nationwide.

As businesses continue to show their commitment to adding individuals with disabilities to all levels of their workforce, we must also support individuals with disabilities to develop the skills they need to find the jobs that they desire, AND to build careers in the field of their choice. Individuals with disabilities are succeeding in meaningful careers in a wide range of private businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, while others are becoming entrepreneurs with their own micro-businesses.

It is important to remember why a job is so important to an individual with a disability. My brother Chris is 28 and has autism, and I asked him why getting a job is important to him. Here is his response:

“I think that a job is essential to a person with a disability because it gives us purpose, and common ground to build on with the rest of the world. All my siblings get so much of their identities from their jobs, I should have the same chance. All my brothers and sisters in disability deserve the opportunities to work in our communities, for fair pay, so that we can fulfill our destinies.”

As we work on the federal and state level to align policies and practices to make the road to employment smoother for individuals with disabilities, no matter their level of need, we must remember that a job is an essential part of what gives someone standing in their community. The value in having a response to “what do you do?” is immeasurable for individuals with disabilities across the country, including my brother Chris.

The Arc and Baymont Inn & Suites – A Welcoming Partnership for Job Seekers with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: The Billy Jake Story

Billy Jake CelebrationAt the end of 2016, The Arc@Work launched a nationwide partnership with Baymont Inn & Suites. Through this initiative, The Arc@Work is helping individual hotels fill the brand-new Hometown Host position. The Hometown Host ensures guests feel at home and that there is plenty of delicious food throughout the daily breakfast service. The role is a symbol of the brand’s emphasis on neighborly service and dedication to community. The collaboration is a win-win for both organizations: helping individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) secure a regular job in the community while assisting Baymont hotel owners in finding reliable, passionate employees who can connect with their guests and provide them with a great experience.

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, The Arc@Work interviewed Billy Jake, the first individual placed through this new initiative at his local Baymont Inn & Suites hotel in Celebration, Florida. Because of his interest in food, this young man initially applied to a local grocery store. Unfortunately, this endeavor did not turn out as he had hoped. Then one day Billy Jake’s job coach, Tre Johnson, informed him of The Arc@Work’s partnership with Baymont Inn & Suites. Thus, began a year of hard work and patience that ultimately landed Billy Jake the Hometown Host position.

During his first few months with the company, Billy Jake admits he “was uncomfortable being around lots of people at my job.” But each time he engaged, he grew a bit more at ease. Also, thanks to these frequent interactions with guests, Billy Jake’s speaking and social skills have improved immensely. His “kind and patient” colleagues have also contributed to his success. He loves it that they “encourage [him] to do better every day.”

Billy Jake now looks forward to waking up every morning and getting ready for work. His days are quite busy, arranging the daily breakfast buffet, ensuring diners’ desires and needs are met promptly, interacting with the hotel guests and colleagues, and, once the breakfast service is over, preparing for the next morning’s service. Then comes his favorite part: munching on goodies made by his colleague Kathy in the hotel kitchen!

Serving guests at Baymont Inn and Suites has increased his self-esteem and has given his life new meaning. In his words, “I feel like this job came along at the perfect time. It is working out wonderfully for me, and I am so grateful to my job coach [for helping] me find it.” Clearly a determined young man, Billy Jake now encourages other job-seekers with disabilities “to pick something they want to do and give it a try. You never know what is possible for you unless you try. If it does not work out, try something else. Never give up!”

Over the last six months, Baymont Inn & Suites has taken steps to make sure the Baymont franchises and the larger community is aware of their interest in hiring people with I/DD. They, like The Arc@Work, understand the positive contributions individuals with I/DD like Billy Jake make, not just in the workforce, but in society as well.

Grant from Walmart Foundation Will Allow The Arc to Support People with Disabilities in Building Fulfilling Careers

Washington, DC – The Arc is thrilled to announce it has received an additional $240,000 from the Walmart Foundation to encourage and support workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to enter the workforce. Current research indicates that only 15% of people with I/DD are currently employed. However, with the right supports, many people with I/DD can build a career alongside their peers without disabilities.

“With the Walmart Foundation’s generous support in 2016, The Arc@Work was able to significantly increase the number of individuals with I/DD working in the community. Now, with this additional funding, The Arc and its chapters are excited to further narrow the workforce gap between people with I/DD and their colleagues without disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

The Arc’s employment initiative, The Arc@Work, connects organizations with people and services that increase the diversity, productivity, and quality of their overall workforce. In 2016, the program partnered with 16 chapters of The Arc to connect employers with talented employees with I/DD. With the Walmart Foundation’s support, these chapters were able to reach and even surpass many of their objectives. By June 2017, nearly 400 individuals with I/DD had secured employment, while 15 states and over 1,700 employers were engaged in outreach. The year also produced many success stories, such as this one from The Arc of Monroe County in Rochester, New York.

When Danielle first began receiving employment services, she exhibited low self-confidence and struggled with social interactions ranging from phone calls to interviews. As she began to take part in her first career fair, job interviews, and informal meetings with potential employers, her confidence started to grow. Through practice and dedication to the process, she was able to overcome the stress and anxiety associated with interacting with potential employers.

Eventually Danielle received a call for an interview at a local senior facility that would result in a pivotal change in her life’s course. The day before she was scheduled to interview, Danielle and her employment specialist practiced answering hypothetical interview questions and how to talk about her qualifications. The following day, Danielle performed flawlessly. Danielle engaged the interviewer in a funny story and her demeanor and the content of her answers to the interview questions were on point.

The following week Danielle was offered a job, and she has been working at the senior facility now for 7 months. Danielle is excellent at her job and has an impressive work pace. She is organized and efficient and her coworkers love to be scheduled to work with her because of her amazing work ethic. In late June, Danielle’s astounding professional and personal growth was recognized at an awards ceremony sponsored by The Arc of Monroe County. When asked how the job has changed her life, Danielle simply replied, “It feels rewarding to be working!”

The Arc of Monroe County’s Tammy Reynolds couldn’t agree more: “The Arc@Work is a valued partner promoting workforce diversity for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Learning From Our Peers: Advice on Organizational Transformation From Those Who Have Done It

RRTC BriefAs more community-based providers of supports and services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) strive to reinvent themselves to offer inclusive opportunities and keep up with Employment First, WIOA, CMS Final Settings Rule, DOJ’s application of Olmstead to employment, and expectations of the ADA generation, organizational leadership may find themselves wondering how to accomplish such a feat. Where’s the finish line? Where’s the starting block?

The Arc believes that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities belong in the community and have fundamental moral, civil and constitutional rights to be fully included and actively participate in all aspects of society. The Arc is pleased to be working toward finding and sharing information to support its chapters on their journeys toward community employment with leading employment researchers as a sub-grantee of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Advancing Employment for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, a project of ThinkWork! at the Institute for Community Inclusion at University of Massachusetts – Boston on a five-year National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) grant aimed at employment of people with I/DD. As part of this collaboration, staff from The Arc co-conducted interviews with leadership from eight organizations which have transformed their employment service delivery from sheltered work to competitive community employment. A brief sharing advice from those interviews was recently released telling us to Commit. Plan. Engage. Implement.

The next step in this collaboration is an intervention aimed at service providers to aide them in transforming their sheltered workshop models to community-based employment programs. This intervention will provide best practice information and other resources to service providers via a comprehensive toolkit.

We are currently looking for chapters to participate in our intervention pilot this summer. The pilot will be six weeks in duration and will consist of reviewing the toolkit, preliminary planning and implementation of pertinent best practices, and providing feedback to The Arc national staff to ensure that the final version of the toolkit is useful and will best support organizations with implementing the conversion process. If you are interested in learning more or participating in the pilot process, please contact Jonathan Lucus, Director of The Arc@Work at: lucus@thearc.org or at 202.534.3706.