JESPY’s Work Readiness & Employment Engagement (WREE) program is an important service for clients who are searching for or maintaining employment. JESPY provides a wide variety of services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping them to become increasingly independent.

While some clients work full or part-time jobs, the department also helps clients prepare for employment by securing job training opportunities at Community Activity Sites or through volunteering. Clients work in the fields of healthcare, clerical, insurance, government, retail, and food service. The importance of their inclusion in all sectors is highlighted this October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Like many people in today’s workforce, JESPY clients have had to deal with downsizing due to the pandemic. As a result, there are a number of challenges they have faced. Included among them are maintaining work skills and learning any skills needed to return to work. 

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Throughout the pandemic, JESPY’s WREE staff has been conducting extensive online research and sharing important training videos with clients to further enhance their job skills.

“Another challenge has been the availability of jobs for clients currently seeking employment,” explained WREE Supervisor Lisa Fiore. “While there were jobs available in essential services like supermarkets, a number of our clients also wanted to work in other areas — such as clerical, food service, childcare, and retail — that were not available during the pandemic.”

To meet the challenge, the department initiated outreach to local employers regarding JESPY’s employment program and services. In addition, efforts have been made to connect with employers through the Maplewood Chamber of Commerce, South Orange Rotary Club, LinkedIn and other social media outlets.

“We’re building relationships and determining company/potential employer needs so that we can properly prepare and train our clients for the jobs that are available,” added Fiore. “Relationships are key, so we’re continuing to form relationships, discuss the benefits of hiring a JESPY client, and potentially offer training for their staffs regarding working with individuals with disabilities.”

Preparing clients for the world of work is also part of the process. During WREE’s job placement phase with clients, they receive skill development training and assistance with resume writing, job applications, and individual service plans to attain their goals. Once a job is secured, WREE job coaches continue to assist clients by providing support through in-person visits at the workplace, assisting clients with increases in work hours, learning new tasks, and maintaining communication with employers.

“I have Ari as an employee and he’s doing a really good job,” said Mike Calvin, a manager at an area Five Guys. “I’m glad that I have him here and that we’re part of the program. The JESPY Job Coach strategies have definitely improved Ari’s performance and speed in the kitchen. He is now able to take care of the customers’ orders within the appropriate time frame.”

“Five Guys is a really good place to work,” said JESPY client Ari G, who also helps with food prep.  “I have a good job coach and JESPY’s job coaching services help all the clients with different skills.”

When speaking of employee and JESPY client Jessica M., Bed Bath & Beyond Supervisor Adafre Negussie shared the following: “Jessica is a great employee. She always gets assistance at the job site from her JESPY House Job Coach. There is a very good flow of communication between Jessica, our supervisors, and the Job Coach.”

While these client successes and a number of others are encouraging, there’s still work to be done when it comes to filling the employment gap left by the pandemic. During the first five months of the pandemic, about one-third of WREE employed clients worked during the pandemic. Currently, only ten percent of all working clients are back to work. Four clients lost employment and 30 clients received assistance with unemployment claims.

There are several ways that prospective employers can help get clients back to work. According to Fiore, an employer’s willingness to learn about JESPY and how to best work with the JESPY population is key. “It’s also important for us to discuss their hiring needs and for them to understand the benefits of hiring one of our clients.”

It would also be helpful, added Fiore, if prospective employers could act as resources for JESPY’s employment program so that clients can learn more about various occupations.

“We’d love for employers to schedule a tour to show JESPY clients the types of jobs available at their companies,” she said. “That way, we can determine if a client has an interest in that type of work. Employers can also work in conjunction with us to set up mock interviews and educational workshops to discuss the job skills and education they require for employment.”

To learn more about how your business can partner with JESPY, email lfiore@jespy.org. Discover more about JESPY, by logging on to jespy.org.