Congratulation, you got the job! Who among us has not heard that and felt an immense sense of pride? A job gives us so many things besides a paycheck. We also get paid with feelings of self-worth, independence and responsibility. For some, finding employment is more challenging because of significant disabilities.
According to the Joint Economic Committee, in 2010 the national unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds is 26%. For people in the same age group, who also had a disability the rate was 35.6%. Because of this discrepancy, Ranita Wilks of Independence Inc. developed a program to help these young people get the job skills and confidence they need to find employment. The Youth Employment Program or YEP! worked with young people ages 15-21 with disabilities to find employment right here in our community.
Here’s how it worked. Independence, Inc. would target youth who were not ready to work independently and helped them and their parents to develop the skills to become more self-sufficient. This program focused on helping the youth to set goals related to achieving independence. Then we would partner with local businesses that would hire them on a trial basis. The YEP! program would pay the worker’s salary and the liability insurance for the employer. The young person would learn real working skills, responsibility, and gain self advocacy skills needed for successful transition to adulthood.
Since its inception in 2008, this successful program has served 78 hard-to-place youth with significant disabilities by providing them with 80 hours of paid employment in stores, restaurants, and other businesses in the area. Twenty-two of them completed the program with permanent job offers by the sponsoring business. Many found employment at other companies.
Here are just a few success stories, as told by the programs inventor and director, Ranita Wilks;
“Chris was hired by Amy's Coffee House after working through YEP for the summer. Because of the success of Chris, the owners of Amy's are interested in helping other students with disabilities enter the field of employment.
Clark was hired by Hy-Vee after working there for the summer. They said that they were very happy to have a job coach help train Clark. He is now a part time employee who is valued by the management.
Larissa was hired by the University of Kansas partly because of the work skills learned at her summer job at Sunshine Acres. The University liked her work history and the fact that she had a track record of good attendance. KU reports that she is at work every day and is a great team player.
You may have noticed that I have writing in past tense. This is because this state-sponsored program lost its federal funding last year and YEP! was no more. Ranita and others at Independence, Inc. have been trying desperately since to find alternative funding for this valuable program.
At last, we are pleased to announce that through a partnership with The United Way of Douglas County we are able to reinstate the program! We will once again be able to provide jobs for people that may not be able to find employment on their own, and helping put them on the path to be self-sufficient and a life time of work and being a part of and contributing to the community instead of relying on government assistance.
In an email, Erika Dvorske the Executive Director for The United Way of Douglas County told me, “The United Way Board is excited about connecting people with employment to be self sufficient. The Youth Employment Program provides a great opportunity for people who might not get an opportunity to be employed to hone their skills and become great employees. United Way believes in supporting programs that support people in attaining and maintaining their jobs.” .
Independence, Inc. also partners with other nonprofits like the Arc of Douglas County and others that help our whole community. The YEP! partnership with United Way is just the latest collaboration that your local nonprofit organizations are involved in try our best to make our community work better for everyone. . If your business would like to partner with Independence, Inc. and the YEP program, by offering a trial employment, please contact Ranita Wilks at 785-841-0333 X 115. Thank you.