The Show-Me-Careers Grant’s Four-Year Run Sees Much Success
Columbia organizations (Alternative Community Training (ACT), Boone County Family Resources (BCFR), Central Missouri Regional Office, Columbia Public Schools, Missouri Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Moresource, Inc., Services for Independent Living) interested in improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities joined forces in 2012 and sought and received a Show-Me-Careers grant.
The four-year grant allowed the Columbia Team to implement a variety of programs. Their efforts generated significant momentum in the community behind diversifying the workforce.
The primary goal of Show-Me-Careers is to enhance effective practices that support the seamless transition from high school to either inclusive employment or post-secondary education for young adults ages 16-30 with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
Show-Me-Careers believes that improved collaboration, policies, funding, and practices that support transitions to employment at the system level will support the scaling-up of evidence-based practices at the community level. These will result in improved employment outcomes on the individual level.
Under the grant, the guiding principles for Show-Me-Careers were developed for communities to be successful in their endeavors:
- Career Planning and Early Work Experiences: All students should have paid work experiences and participate in high-quality, person-centered career planning.
- Youth Development: Students should have the opportunity to build self-determination skills and social capital.
- Integration of Systems: School-based and post-school service systems should coordinate efforts to make sure students move seamlessly from school to career.
- Family Involvement: Families should be encouraged and equipped to have high expectations for their child’s future and to participate actively in all parts of transition planning.
- Employer Engagement and Business Partnerships: School-to-career initiatives should engage employers as active partners and should focus on the needs of both businesses and youth.
- Post-secondary education and Training: Students with developmental disabilities should get the support they need to aim for, apply to, enter, and succeed in post-secondary education.
The Columbia Team hit the ground running and made many accomplishments in the first year.
They first started working in local high schools with teachers and students, to better prepare them for the transition out of high school. They developed a mentorship program with the Columbia Transition Team (CTT) (learn more about CTT here), pairing high school students with business people who shared common goals. And a Special Education learning event was held to educate high school teachers about community resources.
A Community Network was enhanced for families and individuals with disabilities. This network hosted transition workshops to prepare for high school to work or high school to post-secondary education. Curriculum and supplies for transition workshops and presentations were purchased with the grant funding.
The group began planning for students’ vocational exploration by hosting an event called a Future Fair. These allowed students to learn about their vocational skills, talents, and interests.
The Team worked hard to develop a relationship with the business community. Two business roundtable discussions were held to receive input. And they started the Annual Inclusive Business Awards where businesses are recognized for inclusive hiring.
Once the foundation was established, the team started building upward in the second year.
The Future Fair continued and expanded to include middle school students. Activities were added to give students exposure to the world of work and adulthood. More work experience programs were added throughout the district.
Three more outstanding businesses were recognized for hiring people with disabilities through the Annual Inclusive Business Awards.
With the support of the grant, the Columbia Transition Team started planning for the Transition Academy, a workshop for students, families, and other professionals to learn more about work, self-advocacy, and adult service providers.
BCFR’s Life and Work Connections program began implementing the Life Course, a tool to help individuals with disabilities and families develop a vision for their lives, and everything needed to achieve those visions.
From 2014 to 2015, Show-Me-Careers expanded and emphasized getting the word out to a broader audience.
The nomination process for Annual Inclusive Business Awards became more formalized to allow all interested parties in our area to be involved.
Over 150 students attended the Future Fair. This year students led some components, which promoted self-advocacy and responsibility.
The first Transition Academy was held at Stephens College. Over 200 students and 22 parents/professionals participated. Sessions included Life Course Planning, Self-Advocacy, Asset Planning, Alternatives to Guardianship, and Employment and Education.
To gain momentum within the community, the Team developed a powerful video to show the value of a diverse workforce (see the video here). The promotional video was featured at the Chamber of Commerce September 2015 Quarterly Membership Breakfast, with 435 in attendance, and 199 organizations/businesses represented.
Two websites were launched to start to eliminate barriers between the business community and potential employees. Abilitiesforbusiness.com matches qualified job candidates with businesses, allowing employers to hire from a more diverse candidate pool.
The Columbia Employment Consortium (CEC) was formed, a collaboration of local organizations committed to supporting the employment and independence of people with disabilities. This group launched the website cec-como.org.
This site meets a need for a single place where businesses can find the information they need about diversity in the workplace. Before, there wasn’t a centralized place to find employment services for people with disabilities, information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or information on hiring individuals with disabilities.
Since October 2015 the team has continued carrying out its mission.
They have been reaching out to the business community by presenting a booth at the Chamber of Commerce Business Showcase to market AbilitiesforBusiness.com. They connected with 55 new businesses that signed up for email updates.
A Dine & Development series was developed targeting the business community. One held in March offered training on Work Opportunity Tax Credits. Fourteen businesses participated. Twenty-five people attended. The Team added 22 new email addresses to the updated mailing list.
The June Dine & Development offered training on Reaching Qualified Applicants with Disabilities. Another 15 businesses were reached.
The Team also orchestrated new training suited for teachers and service providers.
Training for school system employees and partners was conducted by The Arc, with nearly 700 state and local chapters, the nation’s leading advocate for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Topics ranged from self-determination for students in transition and Person-Centered Philosophy to understanding workplace culture and Job Coaching strategies and supports.
Another training was offered by Keith Weidenkeller, entitled “Engaging Businesses in Disability Inclusion: An Employers’ Perspective” or “Why We’re Just Not That Into You.” Eleven agencies participated. Thirty-five people came to listen to this enlightening speaker.
The Team registered Abilities for Business as a Missouri corporation and applied to be a Business Leadership Network (BLN) Affiliate in Central Missouri.
Based on the initiatives supported through the Grant for close to four years, the group has now grown to include 100 Percent Wine, Burrell Behavioral Health (BBH), City of Columbia’s Career Awareness Related Experience (C.A.R.E.) Program, EnCircle Technologies, Gamm, Inc., Great Plains ADA Center, Job Point, Missouri Job Center, Missouri Rehabilitation and Employment Group (MORE Group), and the Thompson Center. Many other agencies also participate as a part of the Columbia Transition Team.
In September, the grant expired. But the accomplishments continue beyond the Show-Me-Careers funding period.
The Team expanded opportunities for early work experiences for students through the Transition Academy and Future Fair.
A partnership was formed with the community, especially with businesses. With the development of CEC, this relationship with businesses will be solidified. Comprised of many of the same businesses as Show-Me-Careers, CEC provides resources to local businesses to help promote and support diverse hiring practices.
We will be seeing the positive impacts of The Columbia Team through the Show-Me-Careers Grant for years to come.