Transcen is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving educational and employment outcomes for people with disabilities. They have helped over 13,000 individuals achieve employment since 1986. They are headquartered in Rockville, MD, operate a satellite office in San Francisco, CA, and have affiliated staff based in Maryland, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The San Francisco based WorkLink program is a transition and employment service that annually assists 60 job seekers with significant disabilities to achieve employment tailored to their needs and interests. Transcen has operated WorkLink since 1996.
Taking full advantage of their urban location
WorkLink’s office, which serves primarily as a meeting hub for individuals and staff to check-in before they head off to their activities, is located in the heart of San Francisco. It is accessible by multiple train and bus lines, even to those who live outside of the city. If the individual did not already come to WorkLink with working knowledge of San Francisco’s public transportation system, they are trained through WorkLink’s “Let’s Get Lost” program. This program encourages public transportation route mastery along with safe ways to ask for help when necessary. In addition, to ease traffic, the city has established public carpool lots by entrances to the Bay Bridge where drivers are encouraged to pick up and carpool with fellow travelers in exchange for reduced tolls. Some individuals who are served by WorkLink utilize this service and one person even made an individual volunteer connection through socializing with other passengers.
WorkLink is located near multiple volunteer organizations, including the community kitchen of Project Open Hand and a forest conservatory, Save the Redwoods. WorkLink’s location puts them near multiple centers of community activity from baseball games to community colleges. WorkLink uses these community resources as teaching environments for skill building. Service hours are focused on helping individuals become more involved in their communities through volunteering and classes so that the individuals understand what it means to participate and contribute to their communities and for others without IDD to be able to see these individuals as equal participants, not just recipients of services.
Using small groups to support shared interests and peer to peer connections
Due to funding limitations, the majority of WorkLink’s community life engagement supports are done in groups. But the staff believes that group models can encourage socialization and friendships among individuals in a natural way. Individuals at WorkLink see each other socially, after work, and a few even date and have romantic relationships. Opportunities for individuals at WorkLink often arise out of the interests of others. For instance, if an individual wants to learn how to knit, a staff member will seek out a community class or store that offers lessons and then post that opportunity at WorkLink’s office to see if others are interested in participating. These communal opportunities allow individuals to develop hobbies, work on job skills and their personal goals alongside friends and community members. Organizations like Project Open Hand work with 1400 volunteers a year from all over the region, so the regular volunteers from WorkLink are always working alongside new people in addition to the people they see every week. This provides a safe environment to practice communication and social interaction skills.
Peer to peer interaction is highly encouraged by WorkLink and valued by the individuals with whom they work. Staff may place more reserved individuals with outgoing peers to facilitate socialization. This interaction helps grow social skills and confidence and staff support can more easily fade. WorkLink even organizes nights out at a local bar where staff, individuals, and other patrons have gotten to know each other over the years. This familiarity and skill building also decreases the need for paid support should an individual want to go on a social outing with friends.
Braiding funds to support both employment and community life engagement
WorkLink has developed an Integrated Work Services model that combines day services along with supported employment services. While some individuals at WorkLink receive only supported employment services, others receive a hybrid of supported employment and day services. All individuals served by WorkLink have an employment goal as part of their individualized plan.
The day service at Worklink uses an hourly rate and DDS waiver funds to facilitate a person-centered process of job exploration and skill building. Once an employment goal is determined, or if the individual just wants work supports, WorkLink starts the placement process. They braid in employment services that work closely with community instructors to target employment settings where the individual would be most successful. Once placed, Worklink provide a job coach through supported employment services funded by VR. Day supports may be reduced as the individual begins working and then reduced further as individuals’ work hours increase. But for some individuals who require ongoing support, these day services function as a “wrap around” support to ensure an ongoing connection with their friends and community.
WorkLink staff see a direct link between community engagement activities and finding paid work. The individual can spend as much time needed to explore jobs and develop life skills (even earning a letter of recommendation from a volunteer site), and then can maintain opportunities for socializing and volunteering during non-work hours once a job is attained.
WorkLink believes everyone should have a job and that those jobs should reflect the individual’s interests and build on their strengths. They see the community as the ideal environment to teach work and non-work skills. They use scatterplot graphs to track various goals towards community engagement and employment and also use the Positive Personal Profile assessment to better understand the individual’s dreams, challenges, and work preferences.
That value also extends to the staff they hire. WorkLink sees value in hiring individuals without prior experience in the disability field; these individuals are often open to trying new things, see the value in having high expectations, and are not entrenched in more traditional service models. They want staff who believe that people with IDD can have a life similar to theirs and will push the individual past their own expectations of what they can accomplish.