Learning Opportunities/Quality Works (LOQW) provides service coordination, skills training, and employment services in Northeast Missouri. They serve over 600 customers annually and work in 14 counties.
Leveraging close community connections
LOQW works in very small and tight-knit communities. The smooth functioning of the organization can probably be attributed to the closeness of staff and that many staff have known each other, and many of the individuals they serve, their whole lives. LOQW makes excellent use of their community connections whether it’s finding a used bike or finding someone housing - someone there will know somebody in the community who has that resource to offer. As they said “It’s not magic. You just pick up the phone.” The community itself appears to have embraced LOQW, with many organizations invested in long-term reciprocal relationships with them such as the Monroe Senior Center and the Parks Department. These organizations rely on individuals for their help with day-to-day activities as much as LOQW relies on them for work and volunteer opportunities. This creates a natural, organic ripple effect as the more people with disabilities engage with the community, the more the community becomes aware of and supports their participation.
Organizational culture that emphasizes CLE competency
The culture of community inclusion that LOQW fosters extends to their hiring and training practices. Potential employees are expected to come on board with pre-existing community relationships that LOQW can add to their network of resources. Should the employee have no previous connections, there is an expectation that they will go out and create them. LOQW invests heavily in staff training and the staff that attend these trainings come back and disseminate what they learned to the rest of the staff. The staff at LOQW must wear many hats from employment consultant for employers to direct support professional, so it’s important that everyone share knowledge and resources. Staff are also encouraged to become specialists in one area should they have the knowledge, inclination, or opportunity (i.e. autism, housing, etc.)
Individualized supports and one-to-one staff ratios
Staff take a very individualized, one-on-one approach, discovering the interests of people they are supporting and addressing their unique needs. LOQW has a heavy emphasis on individual goal development and monitoring, making sure that staff are consistently evaluating whether services and activities further those goals. SETWORKS software keeps all staff accountable. In a place like LOQW where everyone has “boots on the ground”, having shared values and constant communication is a must to provide consistent, top-quality service.
Recently, LOQW has begun to implement a Life Course Tool framework that breaks down each individual’s day into paid supports and free time via color coding. The idea is to visually examine if there are ways to eliminate the paid support time in favor of natural supports. LOQW staff are currently working with their service coordinators on ways to increase natural supports and fade paid supports. Stakeholders at LOQW did share that sometimes fading becomes harder than expected due to the close relationships formed between individuals and their direct support professionals.
With the heavy emphasis on individualization of supports, respondents noted that they can sometimes experience limited opportunities to engage in community activities together (e,g, several individuals attending a local event like a parade together), even when requested and preferred by those individuals. A stakeholder noted the incongruity: “So I feel like I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth, "Don't do group things." (but) If I want to call four of my friends and go, what's the difference?” LOQW values both individualization and choice, and strives to reflect this in the way they support relationships and community connections. This could be an important area for guidance in the organization’s newly developed CLE policy.