Theresa Freed: [00:00] On this week's episode, you'll hear from Johnson County developmental supports. They'll talk about programs like Project SEARCH that are preparing residents for the workforce and walking alongside them through the process of getting and keeping rewarding jobs. You'll hear from a man served by JCDS, hear from him the challenges and rewards of getting up and go into work every day. Finally, you'll hear from a Johnson County commissioner who's passionate about the county's efforts to promote employment. He'll talk about the great public private partnerships to help residents with disabilities.
Announcer: [00:32] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas. JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community that you call home.
Theresa Freed: [00:46] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Today we're talking about employment for our Johnson County population with disabilities. Some of you may not be familiar with Johnson County Developmental Supports. It's the department that facilitates career and personal development for Johnson County residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This division serves more than 500 people each day and October just happens to be Disability Employment Awareness Month. And a theme for this year's campaign is The Right Talent, Right Now. Today we're talking to a Johnson County subject matter expert within JCDS. We're also going to introduce you to a man, served by the County. To get us started. I'm happy to introduce Amy Fair. She is a community employment team leader. Thanks for joining us.
Amy Fair: [01:38] Thank you for having us.
Theresa Freed: [01:40] Alright, just to start off with, if you can talk a little bit about what your department does for the people in the community.
Amy Fair: [01:45] So the Community Employment team works with adults in Johnson County with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are interested in working out in an integrated work setting. So we have a variety of programs where we can do really we can just meet people where they are. We can help them get introduced to the idea of work and what work is going to look like for them. Because it may look a little different for everybody. We can help them with training and developing the skills that they need to be successful at work or to learn a particular type of job or a field that they're interested in. And then we can help with finding the job and then also job coaching and learning that particular job. And then we also have supports for after they've met their employment goal, just to kind of maintain that employment long term. Because that's a huge factor for quality of life is to be able to maintain those jobs.
Theresa Freed: [02:56] All right. And we, we say disability, but really identifying an individual's abilities. They're not focusing on the limitations, but focusing on what they're able to do and how they can contribute and kind of self-sustain. So what's that process look like in terms of what do you do to, to find out what the interests are and also the capabilities?
Amy Fair: [03:17] We have a lot of dedicated employees on our team that the first thing that they're gonna do is they're gonna meet with people and get to know them. Depending on which program they decide is the best for them and pursuing employment. There are various assessments that they may do. We've got the Project SEARCH program that the County participates in and there are three internship rotations that they do without over a nine month period. So they really get a lot of hands on experience. They get to find out, you know, where they Excel. What they have to offer. There's the independence Kansas program that it's a five year grant funded program through the state of Kansas that we are participating in. And there are also something similar to an internship experience. It's a short term work experience where they may go in and try different jobs. There are work assessments and vocational assessments and then there's, there's just going out and seeing different environments and saying, you know, Oh, I thought I would like this type of environment, but actually it's, it's pretty noisy and it would maybe stress me out, so let's go look someplace else. So it's just a lot of spending time with that employment specialist and spending time out in the community.
Theresa Freed: [04:38] Okay. And I imagine this collaboration really involves a lot of partnership with businesses and in Johnson County. What's been the response from them?
Amy Fair: [04:48] We are so fortunate to have business partnerships and they're so supportive of us. We have some really wonderful partners out in the community that both they understand the value of developing those skills and training. And so they offer their facilities, their expertise, their employees to help train and, and provide guidance. And then, you know, they recognize the value that having a, a trained employee to, to hire in, can have. And so when they have openings, they'll, they'll contact us, they reach out to us. So you know, they know that when someone is supported by us, they've got a whole team of people preparing them to be great employees. And that's beyond the skills. That's great. Attendance, being a reliable employee and, and knowing how to interact with customers or knowing how to interact with your coworkers, our employer partners are absolutely critical to what we're able to do.
Theresa Freed: [05:57] And what are some of the rewarding experience? As I'm sure you have lots of them to talk about. Maybe what are some of the ones that stand out to you?
Amy Fair: [06:05] Well something that I see a lot is you kind of alluded to it. You know, we, we might talk about somebody that, you know, this individual has a disability and not necessarily focus on what those abilities are. And a lot of times, you know, they have had the experience of being discouraged and maybe only looking through that lens as well. And employment is so incredibly empowering. It is, I am part of this team. They need me here. What I do here is important. The, the confidence that I see is, is amazing. I think all of us have a need to maybe have some purpose and have something that is ours that we do and we contribute and that's what employment does. Not to mention just on a more practical side, it allows people to be more independent. It allows them to bring in an income and maybe have more choice over where they live or what they do and maybe have some spending money. And it's, it's the impact. It just, it cannot be overstated.
Theresa Freed: [07:24] Okay. That's great. And now we want to kind of turn over to, to listen to some of the, the impact that this has had and the or an individual's life here in our community. So I'm going to introduce Tyler Smith. Thanks for being with us.
Tyler Smith: [07:38] You're welcome.
Theresa Freed: [07:39] All right, so you receive services through the County and can you share a little bit about your story? What have, what have you received in terms of support from, from your, your team?
Tyler Smith: [07:52] Well, it's, it's been a lot of years since I've been in like Project SEARCH. I did do some other jobs when I did seasonal jobs a long time ago when I was in high school. But after that I got into Project SEARCH, did find myself a better job to work at to get more money and have more hours to work in. So after I did Project SEARCH some of the job coaches help you find a job. They did help me find one, which was at the AMC studio 30 so I've worked there for a year. And then I was like, I'd probably want to try something more challenging a little bit. So I talked to my job coach and they helped me along with this and I waited for a few months or so. And basically they will find your job and they will take you there, show you around, see if you like it or not. And if you do, you can see if you want to work there. And then they take you to the job, show you how to do things there. And then you start working there for a little while and you get used it and you're like, I want to work here, burn. And then this other one. So it's kinda like you're going from job to job, seeing what jobs you'd like.
Theresa Freed: [09:04] Right? So that's a great opportunity where you get to try different things out and see what fits. And so what are you doing right now?
Tyler Smith: [09:10] For me, I am working at a warehouse in Olathe, a Dillard's warehouse. For me, I basically throw boxes stack pallets, sweep up the area and make sure it's all clean. Nothing that you can trip over or anything. So for me, I pick up around 40 to 70 pound boxes. Some are light, some are heavy. So one thing that I have to be certain of is not to put too much pressure on me or injure myself at work.
Theresa Freed: [09:39] All right. And so what's it like just, you know, at the end of the day, I'm sure you're tired, that's a lot of physical labor, but how does it make you feel to have a job?
Tyler Smith: [09:48] It was awesome. I mean, it's like you're working all these hours and you're, you're like, you're all tired and like stressed out and you just like, you just want to get that day over with. And next thing you know, you want to like relax, sit down and just enjoy life. And then next thing you know, you want to get back up and start working again.
Theresa Freed: [10:06] So I'm sure a rewarding experience to be able to get up and go to work each day. Right? Yes. Oh right. And talk a little bit more about Project SEARCH. I think that's a program that's pretty innovative in our area and not a lot of people know what that is exactly. Can you tell me how you got involved in that and, and what you thought about it?
Tyler Smith: [10:26] Well I first heard from someone who was telling me that they're their, like their son or daughter went there for Project SEARCH and they got like an awesome job that they're working on. So I went to a meeting for one of the meetings for Project SEARCH and they are started talking about all of this like nine month program that you gotta go through three rotations at different jobs that you get to learn. And then after you graduate they will help you find a job that you might love and work at. They are, they're like a lot of people out there in the world that has had a lot of disability that they can't really do much help in finding jobs. So that's why Project SEARCH is out there. Finding people who are disabilities and can't find jobs on their own to help them find one.
Theresa Freed: [11:10] All right. And I don't know, Amy, if you want to throw in any additional information about how people get involved in that.
Amy Fair: [11:16] Well for Project SEARCH or really any of our programs, we, we have several informational nights throughout the year and those are open to anybody in the community that, that wants to come and learn about our programs and get more information. They can always contact me and, and I can get them kind of connected wherever it is that they need to go as far as where they are in the process. Our website gives information about all of our, our programs and then contact information for the staff on the employment team.
Theresa Freed: [11:53] Any other messages that you want to give to the public? Either one of you, just a words of encouragement to other people who have disabilities and may be kind of frustrated by feeling limited. Any words of hope to them?
Tyler Smith: [12:06] Well, I just wanted to say if there is a job out there that you might like, just go and talk to your job coaches and just talk to them to see if you want to try it out and see if it's all right. If you don't, they'll always help you find other jobs.
Amy Fair: [12:19] And I would, I would agree with that, that you know, there are people who can help with that. There are people here to support you so everybody has the ability to contribute.
Theresa Freed: [12:32] We want to let people know that we do have additional information as it was mentioned on our website about Johnson County developmental supports. You can go to Joko gov.org. Good luck to you in the future and good luck with the job you have. And I hope that you just keep moving on and excelling and getting to the place where you want to be. Tyler was actually one of the speakers and a recent Project SEARCH graduation where he shared his success story and offered some words of encouragement to his peers. Also addressing graduates was an employer who works closely with Johnson County government. Rhonda Case is a co-owner of sunflower cafe located in the Johnson County administration building. She's a great supporter of Project SEARCH. Here's what she had to say at the graduation this past summer.
Rhonda Case: [13:15] Thank all of you for the privilege of working with the interns. We have come to care for like our own children in the past five years. We have developed relationships with all of the interns. We have tried to develop them for their future successes. Some of our interns we still are in touch with today. One of our first interns, Kyle was hired after the very first search class. His humor and quick wit, our source of laughter and happiness daily for my staff, Jerry, my husband and myself. We have learned from all of our interns to be patient and to listen to the their needs and aspirations to Ian, you are truly a joy to be around. Your updates about your kitties sleeping in the same and your chocolate lab burying your remote controls will forever be remembered fondly to Britney. Continue to bake and use your tablets or something like that you love and it brings joy to yourself and those around you and to Steven. You never learned to stick to the task and to never, never, never to give up his skill. You moving frequently and quoting from my favorite author, Dr. Seuss, you're off to great places. Today's your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way. I thought at first that I would be helping the interns, but the real gift has been is what you've all given to me, that happiness that we may have in some little way prepared you to become better equipped to handle what lays ahead. We have some wonderful touching, colorful stories to tell our children, grandchildren and friends. My husband, Jerry and I are grateful for this experience. Thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, it has been a true blessing.
Theresa Freed: [15:55] Continuing our conversation about Johnson county's efforts to support residents with disabilities. Joining me now is commissioner Michael Ashcraft. He serves as the liaison to the Johnson County developmental supports governing board. Commissioner, thanks for joining us.
Michael Ashcraft: [16:08] Thank you. This is a quite a pleasure.
Theresa Freed: [16:11] All right, well just to start off with, can you talk a little bit about the Johnson County board of County commissioners support a programs and services for residents with disabilities?
Michael Ashcraft: [16:20] You know, that's a great question and it's very timely because I had heard on a broadcast a this week that in Johnson County and Wyandotte County, just in Kansas, there are over 14,000 jobs that are unfilled. As you may know, the employment unemployment rates are at historic lows. I saw some newspaper articles like the 50 year low and our average is between three and three and a half percent, very, very low. And that is a wonderful opportunity, I think for us to get the word out to employers in Johnson County that we have a resource pool of individuals who want to work, who are reliable, who are able to do many, many jobs.
Theresa Freed: [17:11] If you can talk a little bit about sort of what those public private partnerships how they benefit the community as a whole.
Michael Ashcraft: [17:19] Well, you know, that's actually the key. These high functioning individuals they want to work and what we do in Johnson County, what JCDS does, Johnson County Developmental Supports does, is that they will work with the employer provided job coach as needed and help match up individuals. And right now, I don't think I said this, but I believe we have like between 45 and 50 people who want to work right now. So of those 14,000 jobs, those people, you employers out there, you've got a labor pool that you could tap. And I think one of the people that you interviewed earlier for the podcast works in a warehouse. And that's just one of the types of jobs that our IDD individuals can work in. They can work in hospitality like food prep and dish washing, clerical and office work, like filing and mail room work, retail, cashiering, stocking. That kind of repetitive work that is, that is hard. But people who are dedicated to do it and do it well also in manufacturing on the assembly line and we will match up JCDS we'll match up individuals with the work. They will do it with no extra charge, provide a job coach that can come in, help make sure that that person is honed well for the job. I can't stress just how much these individuals want to work.
Theresa Freed: [18:55] And so what are you seeing as, as sort of the, the benefit for, for the people with disabilities? In terms of just being able to get up and, and feel confident, you know, about being able to provide for themselves and, and just feel the rewards of accomplishing,
Michael Ashcraft: [19:14] You know, that that's really key in a narrow sense, but in a broader sense. I think it's important that many of us get over the belief that just because you have a disability doesn't mean you can't be high functioning and able to serve your community in a broad sense. A lot of people who have disabilities and I'm put that kind of in air quotes a, they drive, they live alone, they support the community, they're engaged. But they need the opportunity and they need us to be welcoming. I you know, I'll tell you a story. I hope this doesn't offend anyone, but I have a, I have a good friend who has a son that works at McDonald's and McDonald's is one of those employers that has embraced this population and sees their, their value. And this individual has worked at McDonald's for several years now and he does a great job. He doesn't mind getting his hands dirty, cleaning, picking up, straightening, taking care of the fundamentals that we take for granted. Well, the other day a, a group of lads, I will use that term advisedly. Were in the restaurant and they began to question and I will tell you, make fun of the individual. And that really bothers me because this young man works hard and is very caring and very loving and very reliable. And we just have as a society, get over that kind of stigma, well, you're not the person who has a disability, I don't want blah, blah, blah. And we have to get through that. And fortunately you see in Johnson County more and more employers and more and more people embrace that. And, and I think we, it's good for us to talk about it because there are, there are many companies that are doing that now and many, many more could be.
Michael Ashcraft: [21:10] And I hope that they will reach out to JCDS and if I can, I'll make a shameless plug. We have an employment division and there's a woman named Beth Johnson that kind of heads that up. I don't know if you know Beth, but her phone number is (913) 826-2342. And she would love to hear from any employer and work with that employer at very competitive rates for the employee to do full service work for people who, who want to work. And I underscore the concept of people who want to work and they are very, very good. And, and Beth and her team work with employers very, very closely and, and you know, some of them, I'll just mention a few of them. CVS has been very involved in this. That's the pharmacy as well as Walgreens. They understand the value of hardworking employees regardless of what disabilities they might have. Hayes Tooling and Plastics, Dillard's of course. Dennis Family Dentistry, Taco Bell, Daylight Donuts, Embassy Suites, Hy-Vee, Dollar Tree store and Tropical Smoothie as well as I mean there are just, just many, but we have about 50 people right now who are looking for work, who want to work. So I hope, I hope employers hear this and they reach out to Beth at 913-826-2324. So sorry, Beth. I hope you get hundreds of phone calls though.
Theresa Freed: [22:53] All right. Well it's great to see that there is that collaboration between again, the public and private sectors and then also seeing that these individuals are very well supported by a great program within the county. And to learn more about services offered by Johnson County developmental supports, visit us at jocogov.org.
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