ILS grant provides supported employment

Published January 8, 2015 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Eilish Palmer

Independent Living Services consumer James Plaxco, center, listens to Brittany Crawford, from left, John Schultz and Jordan Dunn, all of whom work with the new program, Community Access Supported Employment. ILS, at 615 E. Robins St. in Conway, received a grant to help people with intellectual and/or physical disabilities find full- or part-time jobs in the community, and the program provides follow-up services. More information is available by calling (501) 327-5234.

CONWAY — James Plaxco of Conway is looking for a part-time job — working at Krispy Kreme is at the top of his list — and he said he thinks a new Independent Living Services program can help him.

“I’m a hard worker,” said Plaxco, 50.

ILS, a nonprofit organization for physically and/or intellectually disabled people, received a $150,000 grant to start Community Access Supported Employment, said Jordan Dunn, job coordinator.

“Our program is completely new,” Dunn said. “It’s not new ground, but it’s our first official foray into supportive employment.”

Robert Wright, development director/community liaison at ILS, wrote the proposal and received the grant through Arkansas Rehabilitation Services to cover up to 23 referrals for employment for participants. “It is huge,” Wright said of the program’s significance.

Not only will Dunn and his cohort, Brittany Crawford, help find jobs for Faulkner County participants with intellectual and/or physical disabilities, but the program offers job-readiness classes and continued support to help the employees be successful, Dunn said.

“I never want to set someone up to fail,” Dunn said. “For the first 30 days, we’re heavily involved. We’re on-site with them, helping them with up to 80 percent of the job.”

Phase 2 provides support for 90 days by checking with the employees every day.

“Once we see they can do the job and that 90 days is up, we’re going to check in with them every month,” Dunn said. He will either call the person or, preferably, go by the person’s place of employment.

Extended services can last through the year, he said, a time during which the participants are checked on.

“After 90 days successfully on the job where they can do everything by themselves, their case is officially closed by Arkansas Rehab,” Wright said. “If a manager needs them to do a different job, we can send a job coach in.”

Arkansas Rehabilitation Services will check on the employee, too, Dunn said.

“Every month, we send in the paperwork, ‘I spoke to John Doe this month. He said he’s not having any issues.’” ARS will follow up with the employee to make sure he was called and double-check that there aren’t problems.

It helps ensure that the ILS program is acting in good faith, Dunn said, and to see if the employee has had a change in his situation between the two contacts.

“He might tell us he’s fine, but ARS calls and he says, ‘Oh, I’ve got the flu. I’m out so many days; I’m worried about losing my job,’” Dunn said.

Plaxco said he wants a part-time job because he receives Social Security benefits.

Wright said the majority of the ILS consumers want part-time jobs so they will be allowed to keep their Medicare benefits.

However, Dunn said, “one of our big things is to find a balance between benefits and working, and assist people in using less benefits.”

Plaxco is an ILS consumer, but individuals participating in Community Access Support Employment don’t have to be.

“They don’t have to be affiliated with ILS in any way to start with. They can come to us, … but the initial process is filling out paperwork with ARS,” Dunn said. More than 23 individuals can participate, but the grant only covers 23, Wright said.

Anyone in Faulkner County can go to Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and fill out a form, which includes information such as income, Social Security number, etc., Dunn said. People seeking a job can choose ILS or a different program, Dunn said. However, he said he knows of only one other such program in Faulkner County.

Dunn and Crawford are certified to be job coaches, and job-readiness classes are required for program participants. Some people might just need a refresher, and others need a focus on a certain aspect of holding a job, Dunn said.

As of Monday, ILS had five referrals in its new program, Dunn said.

“All five have expressed an interest in a different work area,” he said. “One wants to do veterinary care or work with animals; one especially said he would like to work in a grocery store,” either stocking or as a cashier, Dunn said. Still another participant is interested in delivery driving.

Plaxco said he talked with someone at Krispy Kreme, but he hasn’t heard back. Dunn said he will go speak with the employer, too. If that doesn’t pan out, Plaxco said, he’ll take “anything that comes along.”

He served as a Walmart greeter in Conway for seven years, but then he moved to Little Rock and gave up the job. He now lives in ILS housing in Conway, and he is a member of the ILS board of directors.

“What we want to encourage people to do when it comes to transportation is to access the resources they have available,” Dunn said, “but we will pick them up and take them to their job. We’ve hired someone specifically to do that.”

Hendrix graduate John Schultz, 25, is that person. His first day was Monday. Dunn said Schultz will go to an employee’s workplace and learn the job duties to be able to help the employee. Dunn said he and Schultz will tag-team to teach the required job-readiness classes. Dunn said part of the reason for the required classes is to see if people can maintain a schedule five days a week, which will be important in job performance.

To find jobs suited to the clients’ skills or desires, Dunn said he and Crawford divide and conquer. They will call potential employers, such as the Conway School District, look on employment websites and go by businesses to meet the managers.

“I’m speaking with friends and saying, ‘Hey, what’s your manager’s name?’ They need to see our faces. They need to see we’re not really selling them anything; we’re just here asking for an opportunity.”

Dunn said jobs are out there. “I feel like as a whole, jobs are picking back up,” he said.

He said the employees have something extra — support from the ILS program.

Jackie Fliss, executive director of ILS, said she is happy that ILS is offering a service that was a role the Faulkner County Council on Developmental Disabilities filled before it was dissolved.

“I was very burdened when FCCDD went under,” she said. “Supportive employment is such an important part of services, and someone needed to do it. I’m happy that ARS chose us. I’m very happy, because this is the future.”

ILS has a program called Profile Productions in which consumers do confidential-document shredding and paper recycling for businesses in central Arkansas. The trend, Fliss said, is to move away from a “workshop” atmosphere and get consumers jobs in the community.

“We served 150 adults alone with disabilities who want to work,” said Angie Musgrove, director of ILS Profiles, the day program.

“Now that there’s no one referring those folks, it’s our job, our duty,” she said.

“They’ll be giving back to the community,” Wright said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or