by Julie Cunningham for Families First

Have you ever known someone that seems to run into bad luck but somehow perseveres? Despite multiple losses and hardships, Mark is someone with a rock-solid work ethic. In the summer, he often works two jobs and will walk miles to get to them. He takes pride in his work and has a positive attitude that inspires his co-workers.

Mark who has a disability receives services from Champlain Community Services (CCS) in Colchester through its Way2work, a nationally recognized employment program. The program offers a continuum of vocational and career developmental supports from high school through retirement.

In Brattleboro, Katherine Bruening has been bagging groceries at Market 32 for 13 years. “I like that whenever I do my job the customers compliment me. Having a job means giving to the community”.

Katherine provides leadership to people with disabilities as part of the Families First job club, where a group of job seekers and employed individuals get together to support each other in the employment process.

Koree Childs, a student of Windham Regional Career Center in Brattleboro, is now practiced at performing oil changes. Understanding cars and how they work is Koree’s passion. His dream job is to become a mechanic. He’s well on his way to making this dream a reality.

Internships build the foundation for achieving dreams

Lincoln Street Inc., Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and Hartford School District collaborate to operate The Project SEARCH program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, with ongoing support from Vermont and New Hampshire State Disability agencies. An international program with 600 host sites around the world, young adults with disabilities complete three internships at a host business site prior to graduation.  The focus is on gaining marketable employment skills.

One graduate is on the way to fulfilling her dreams of having a typical life.  She has always wanted a full-time job, an apartment of her own and a car.  So far, she has a full time job, has just moved into a supported apartment and has nearly saved enough money to enroll in driver’s education!

Supported employment creates connections

A principle that drives the supported employment program at Green Mountain Support Services (GMSS) in Morrisville is that working is an integral aspect of a person’s contribution to their community.

“It’s never just about making money.” Josh Smith, the Executive Director of GMSS says that “finding a job and working connects you to something much bigger than yourself. It creates social value. This goes for anyone”.

GMSS supports a gentleman who works at the local Maplefields. He is always excited and eager to go to work and to take on more hours.

A Direct Support Professional is integral to his success on the job they are always looking for the areas on the job where the person can shine on their own. “This is no different than working with any new hire that might be placed in a position that needs on the spot support and training,” says Smith.

Business start-ups foster creativity

Rather than supported and competitive employment, some people who have disabilities prefer to start their own businesses.

Tiffany is a talented artist and has physical limitations. With ongoing support from Upper Valley Services, her creativity and use of colors has enabled her to sell her work at a variety of venues. Her business can be found on Facebook under the name Tiffmark and she hopes to launch a website soon.

ARIS agencies working together for strong and inclusive communities

CCS, Families First, Lincoln St., GMSS and Upper Valley Services form a network of five Vermont agencies called the ARIS consortium. Each agency provides a full array of services and supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to achieve administrative efficiencies, they share a business office in White River Junction.

The ARIS consortium agencies average a 65% employment rate for people with disabilities, well over the National average of 19%. These Employment services not only assist people in achieving their dreams, it also strengthens Vermont by building strong and inclusive communities. Community connections between neighbors is what makes Vermont a special place to live for all of us.