Mutual benefit

BEi’s small group employment helps individuals transition into workforce

Small Group Employment cleaning contract participant Mary Farnsworth

For individuals who have an idea of what they’d like to be doing in the community and are in transition from community participation services at BEi to integrated, competitive employment in the community, small group employment services are the right fit.

According to Rehabilitation Supervisor Kim Nowell, individuals taking part in small group employment services are able to work in the community in groups of two to three with a trainer or job supervisor available to them. Cleaning offices and learning the arts are two of the small group employment options at BEi, said Nowell.

Individuals are able to be part of a mobile workforce, said Nowell, and are able to take pride in the work they do while also collecting a paycheck. Relationships with local artisans, said Nowell, have also offered an opportunity to learn artistic skills while creating salable works of art that they’re able to sell in the community.

BEi currently holds small group employment contracts with Allegheny National Forest at their office in Warren, the Jefferson Defrees Center, Targeted Pet Treats, and recently acquired a contract with the Warren County Courthouse. That, said Nowell, “will provide us with more opportunities to get our individuals out into the community and working.”

And getting individuals out of sheltered workshop environments and into competitive employment within the community is the goal of recent changes to waiver programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities that were handed down from the state this past July. With the push being to give those individuals the most freedom and opportunity possible for them in integrated environments, contracts like these are a big step in the right direction, said Nowell.

Individuals who take part in the cleaning group said that they enjoy cleaning, and that they “don’t mind the hours in the evening,” which is when some of the contracts are for. Other comments indicate that the cleaning jobs are something that individuals receiving small group employment services can take pride in, look forward to, and enjoy. “I like that I can help others in the community and help clean the offices,” said one of the individuals in small group employment. “Everyone is friendly and kind do us,” said another.

The Vocational Art program has been going on for the past three years, said Nowell, and opens up an avenue for individuals receiving small group employment services not just to learn and hone artistic skills, but to make those skills and the projects they produce marketable. Art classes are provided by local artisans in the community, said Nowell, and there are currently fifteen individuals taking advantage of the Vocational Art program, which is a subset of small group employment. Individuals taking part in vocational art said of the program that they enjoyed learning new artistic skills, as well as learning how to sell their artwork. Again, the individuals expressed great pride not just in their developing skills and the work they produce, but that they’re able to connect with the community through the program.

Small group employment is an option for individuals who have grown beyond what community participation services can offer them but may not yet be quite ready to go one on one in an employment situation with BEi’s supported employment services. The stratification of services offered in a tier-wise fashion not only helps to accommodate the case-by-case needs and abilities of the individuals receiving services from BEi, but it also offers an increasing ability to work independently and to the greatest capacity of each individual. As service requirements from the state demand a greater degree of opportunity and growth for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, said BEi Executive Director Dr. William Clark, BEi adjusts its service offerings to do just that.