While for many of us, our first job experience may have begun in high school or college, for Renee, 54, it began only two years ago. Given the struggles that any mature adult might experience with first time employment, Renee has done remarkably well, despite her developmental disabilities. She loves taking on the responsibilities of a job. Renee’s job at Merakey has given her a chance to start conquering certain behavioral challenges that in the past — at a day program and sheltered workshop — often landed her in hot water. Given her stability issues at the time, her day program staff felt unable to support her in a way that was beneficial to both Renee and those around her. A change was needed.
“It was very apparent that Renee was unhappy in the day program,”
says Merakey Regional Executive Director, Alexandra Canavan, who oversees its Residential Services. “She has been a part of our family for 17 years, receiving residential services; we needed to find something for her that would make her happy, that would give her a chance to grow.”
Competitive employment wasn’t initially considered an option. Given Renee’s diagnosis, people feared that she might be of harm to others or lose her job. It was suggested that “sheltering” her from the community was the best and safest choice. But Alexandra saw a challenge and was 100 percent committed to seeing it through. For Renee’s part, the idea of something different from what she had known was upsetting, but she slowly accepted the idea of joining Merakey’s Community Integrated Employment program to prepare herself for a real job as a Merakey employee.
Community Integrated Employment is designed to empower people by helping them find jobs within the community while receiving support from employment specialists, who work with employers to prepare employees in a specific job.
After a year of working with Employment Specialist Derek Rogers to learn the clerical skills needed to perform the job of administrative assistant, a transition plan was implemented to decrease support as skills were mastered. Today, Derek checks in on Renee only one hour a week. “Renee has made great progress, over the past two years,”
says Alexandra. “She is significantly more emotionally stable today. I think this position gives her exactly what she was looking for but was struggling to find. Renee does not want to be identified as a person with a disability.”
Finding her place within the community, working alongside others, and taking home a paycheck have given Renee the opportunity to experience a kind of independence that she never knew before. “I make real money, just like everyone else,”
she says with a confident smile.