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Garden Center Services is a non-profit, multi-program agency based in Burbank for people with developmental disabilities who they refer to as their consumers.
Tammy Ingraffia, Garden Center’s Community Employment Coordinator, wants to get the word out to local businesses and potential employers about their new and innovative “Supported Employment Program” that matches individuals with employment opportunities within the community.
“Our consumers are ready to work!” Ingraffia said. “We have a number of individuals who deserve a competitive job and that demonstrate a variety of skills that are needed in the work place.”
GCS’s Supported Employment Program (SEP) is a creative approach to employment for people with disabilities. Participants receive individualized job skills training and on-the-job support to ensure their performance meets an employer expectations.
The process begins with a careful assessment of an individual’s skills and vocational interests.
The participants then receive training that address essential workplace topics including hygiene, professionalism, communication and more. These job readiness classes usually last about 12 weeks according to Ingraffia.
“We work on things like what to wear to work, greetings and handshakes,” Ingraffia said. “We do practice interviews and role play to build their confidence.”
The last step of the process involves a comprehensive job analysis to ensure a good employer/employee match.
According to Ingraffia, an employer develops a list of tasks and responsibilities they need the employee to fulfill. The employer then works with the Employment Coordinator to choose a program participant that would be a good fit for the position.
Once an SEP participant finds employment, a job coach works with that person until the new employee masters the required skills.
“The role of the job coach is to go to the job with the consumer. They work side-by-side with them helping and encouraging them,” Ingraffia said.
Ingraffia said she’s currently coaching a SEP participant. “He’s on his own three out of the four hours a day. He knows what he’s doing really well so I’m stepping back now. There will be a time when he’s completely independent.”
The challenge now for Ingraffia is to find employers in the community who are willing to participate in the Supported Employment Program and jobs that are a good match for the GCS’s consumers.
“We started the program in October and we currently have 12 consumers that are in training and we’re starting another group in May and we should have about 10 in that one.” Ingraffia said. “Now we’re looking for jobs in the community to place our consumers.”
Ingraffia said that employers who participate in the SEP can be assured that they will get an exceptionally eager employee that can focus on a task without being distracted, and respond well to feedback.
“They want jobs and they’re very motivated! They want to be there so bad — they’re not going to say “I don’t feel like coming to work today so I’m going to skip out.”
Ingraffia said employers don’t have to worry about reliability issues since GSC provides their consumers with transportation to and from the job.
“You can depend on them. They are going to be there and they are going to be on-time.”
GCS matched their first SEP participant with a job last month. Ingraffia said the man started working March 1 at Southtown Health Foods, a local business in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood.
Ingraffia is encouraged by the initial reports she’s received. “We’re getting great feedback, they love him! He [goes to work] and he’s excited to see everybody and everybody is excited to see him. He’s doing really well.”
Ingraffia said the Support Employment Program is looking for both part-time and full-time positions for their job seekers.
“It’s very flexible,” Ingraffia said. “We want to conform to the business’s needs and build off that. If they need someone to come in three hours a week, then we can make that work. If they want someone there full-time, we’ll make that work.”
Ingraffia added there are many intangible benefits that businesses attain when they hire persons with intellectual disabilities.
“We have been told by employers that having one of our individuals on staff is motivating to their other employees and that the workplace becomes lighter and more productive,” Ingraffia said. “The business’s customers and neighborhood realize that they are truly committed to creating a work environment that supports a diverse and inclusive community.”
For more information about Garden Center Services’ Support Employment Program, contact Tammy Ingraffia at 708-398-6578 or email tingraffia@GardenCenterServices.org.