PHILMONT–Coarc, the private nonprofit agency serving Columbia County residents with developmental disabilities, has begun to promote a new philosophy about work that has led to the employment of more of its people out in the community. The program is in keeping with the organization’s stated mission “to improve lives by expanding abilities, one person at a time.”
“A job is an important part of life. it gives life meaning,” said Alex Schneider, Coarc’s director of development, at a meeting in January. He said that work gets people out in the community, provides a variety of experiences and the added benefit of earning wages.
The program, in development during the past 18 months, is driven by changes at both the state and federal level and is motivated in part by the Affordable Care Act, said Mr. Schneider.
A new approach in New York to Medicaid is also a significant factor along with the state Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD), the regulatory agency that approves Coarc’s funding. Parents are also looking at their children’s programs more critically, said Mr. Schneider. “They want their child to have the best life possible. That includes a job, an apartment and independence,” he said.
These work opportunities differ radically from the sheltered workshops that people with developmental disabilities have been transported to in groups for decades in many state programs. Coarc now helps people with diverse interests and skill sets find work that is better suited for them and in tune with their aspirations.
Even if for only a few hours a week, and even if it requires the presence of a Coarc trainer to help them stay focused or learn necessary skills, the agency reports that participants in the program are enjoying the new dimension it brings in their lives. And they have a choice when it comes to their placements.
One person shreds paper for the Greenport Rescue Squad for two hours each week. Another folds laundry and cleans wheelchairs and railings at Pine Haven Rest and Rehabilitation Center.
“They get to experience what it is to have a job,” said Sharon Almstead, Coarc’s
program manager for clinical services.
Coarc’s School to Work Internships program helps special education students in high school find part-time work throughout the county that complements their interests. “The focus is on individuals,” said Ms. Almstead.
Amanda’s Fireplace, BAC Sales, Inc., Floral Innovations, Herrington’s Lumber, Little Wonders Early Childhood Enrichment Center, Mario’s Home Center, McDonald’s, NAPA Auto Parts, families in need of child care, and others have opened their work places to Coarc interns.
Students earn a competitive hourly wage and get pre-vocational training, while the employer gets the service for free. The internship is administered through the school with assistance from Coarc. Some students move into jobs after graduation while others pick up skills that may make them more employable.
“They get a work readiness initiation and they get to experience what it is to have a job. Some move into jobs after graduation,” said Mr. Schneider, who acknowledged that before the new program, “people were falling between the cracks. There was no transportation. They had no one coaching them. There was limited funding to help situate people in jobs that were right for them.”
Coarc’s work readiness program started last year. Columbia Work Link helps adults gain job experience often with the help of a job coach, who accompanies them to jobs at Animals, Animals, The Berry Farm, Chatham Bowl, The Claverack Food Mart, Columbia Green Community College, Hudson Chatham Winery
Kling Magnetics, Pine Haven, Pizza Hut, The Rosery Florist, Schrader Home Interiors, Walmart, a veterinarian’s office, a doctor’s office, a landscaping firm, and farms and offices. Often people get these jobs by applying for posted positions. Sometimes Coarc helps with payroll management, handling any tax or insurance issues that arise; the job coach is there to resolve any difficulties.
Columbia Work Link, 409 Warren Street, operates just like a traditional employment service to connect qualified workers with disabilities with local employers who also benefit from the services of Coarc’s job trainers.
In addition to the outreach, Coarc’s two manufacturing facilities, one each in Hudson and Philmont, continue to provide jobs and a range of services to clients, including design, development, injection molding, welding, assembly, packaging and fulfillment.
Many Coarc people want to pursue non-work interests, and funds exist to help make excursions to a Mets game, high school sports events, or Lake George a reality. Closer to home, one person hikes with a Coarc employee. Some get therapeutic horseback riding lessons. Others exercise at Planet Fitness, play basketball, baseball or pick cherries at a local orchard. Many volunteer with Meals on Wheels and the Salvation Army.
Coarc was started in 1965 by friends and parents of developmentally disabled children. The new job initiative is supported by a combination of federal, state, and private funds. Coarc recently extended services to young people coping with traumatic brain injuries.