For most of Clallam County’s workforce, the prime motivator in holding down a job is to pay the bills.
Somewhere after that comes a sense of self-worth and self-satisfaction in a job well done. For county residents who are developmentally disabled and willing and able to work, self-esteem gained from earning a living and being part of a team is an important component in their quality of life.
Within the county’s Health and Human Services Department is a three-person Developmental Disabilities office, led by Tim Bruce.
“Our goal for anyone with developmental disabilities is to provide support for them to be successful,” Bruce said. “We are really about working with employment issues; we serve approximately 85 people with employment services. About 60 percent of them had a paycheck last month and currently are adding about $300,000 to the local economy.”
Of about 450 developmentally disabled persons in Clallam County registered with the state, about 200 are eligible for paid services, including assistance in getting and keeping a job. The county contracts with three local companies specializing in job development and job coaching: the nonprofit Concerned Citizens in Port Angeles and Forks, and for-profits Morningside in Port Angeles and Pierce, Jones & Associates in Sequim.
Bruce explained a client is referred to his office and his case manager, Mary Cliffton, sets up meetings between the client and representatives of the three companies. The client chooses one of them for pre-employment training and on-site job coaching.
According to the Developmental Disabilities office brochure, “Employment specialists attend team meetings and work closely with businesses, case managers, psychiatrists and other professionals to help people achieve their employment goals. Team members openly discuss and find solutions for issues that affect work, such as the following: medication side effects, persistent medical symptoms, cognitive difficulties, physical differences and other rehabilitation needs.”
Lejla Hadziomerspahic is one client who receives supported employment services through the Concerned Citizens’ satellite office in Port Angeles. The pleasant and efficient 23-year-old earned a spot on the sorting and distribution team at the Sequim Goodwill hub about a year ago.
Dawn Barrett, the program director of supported employment with Concerned Citizens, said, “We began serving Lejla under voc rehab services funding which allowed us for 90 days to support her and make sure she had the training and communication skills to interact with her co-workers.
“We also assessed her skills, interests and barriers to employment. Her placement with Goodwill was customized employment because she needed the right job to match her skills.”
Barrett added Hadziomerspahic’s job as a bagger of crafts, towels, T-shirts and rags continues to be supported long-term through the county’s Developmental Disabilities office — she works two half-days a week and has a job coach through Concerned Citizens for 11 hours a month “to ensure she’s working up to her employer’s expectations,” Barrett said. “Lejla does a great job and I think she’s really proud.”
“I like putting things in the bags because it’s easy to do. My job makes me very happy and I’m very comfortable working here,” Hadziomerspahic said.
“Mary and Linda (co-workers) are very nice and help me out all the time. This is a very good job.”
“A good part of what we and the coaches do is to help the employer and employee find a job that fits the person,” Bruce said.
“A lot of our people don’t fit most job descriptions so we do ‘job carving,’ which is looking at a job and breaking it down into tasks. There still are a lot of developmentally disabled people not employed — they’re one of the most highly under-employed groups in society. When they want to work, they really want to work. As a whole, they’re really excited and have pride in the work they’re doing. It’s kind of neat when you have people who really want to work.”
“The biggest question we get from employers,” said Barrett, “is, ‘How do you treat somebody with developmental challenges?’ I feel every person has abilities and the same dreams and goals, so treat them as everybody else. Jobs give them confidence, structure, interaction with and integration into the community and the opportunity to spend money and give back to the community.”
Bruce said people don’t realize just how many employees with developmental disabilities there are working in the county, contributing to its economic and social good.
“Even with our budget decreasing, our percentage of employees has increased over the past couple of years,” Bruce said.
“We still have a lot to do but it’s an exciting job. It’s so neat seeing people being successful and having a job. Many employers are very willing to hire someone who’ll do a good job, disabled or not, but they don’t know the services available to them, such as business and tax incentives.
“We try to share that information and make connections happen.”
For more information, contact Bruce at 417-2428 or firstname.lastname@example.org. or see the department’s website at www.clallam.net/HHS/HumanServices/DevelopmentalDisabilities.
Reach Patricia Morrison Coate at email@example.com.