In the mid-90s, United Cerebral Palsy of Oregon and Southwest Washington changed the way it served people with disabilities seeking employment. The old model – offering “sheltered” employment in a workshop setting run by UCP – gave way to a new emphasis on finding opportunities for individuals to work at businesses in their communities.
In 1998, Jeff Corwin worked with a UCP Employment Specialist to land a job at Erickson’s Automotive in Lake Oswego. He started off coming into the shop three days a week to help owner Bill Erickson clean up tools and move garbage and recyclable metals to their proper containers.
16 years later, Jeff is as loyal to Erickson’s as ever. In addition to his commitment to his employer, Jeff has earned his Master Recycler certification and now volunteers his spare time to help a nonprofit organization with its recycling. Bill Erickson’s life and business have been impacted for the better as well. Erickson said that working with Jeff was a “blessing in disguise.”
Although UCP’s Employment Specialists established systems and written instructions to help Jeff be successful, he still needed verbal instructions from Bill. But once Bill understood how Jeff worked best, he was able to put Jeff’s near-photographic memory and attention to detail to work for the business. Jeff’s work ethic and reliability are also valuable assets to Bill in a small business where young, inexperienced workers tend to come and go quickly.
The current iteration of UCP of Oregon & Southwest Washington’s employment service, Employment Solutions, began in 2006 through a grant which allowed for just one full-time Employment Specialist supporting just a dozen job seekers. Since then the service has thrived and can boast about long-term success stories like Jeff Corwin’s.
Employment Specialists each invest approximately 500 hours of training in the first year and 100 hours each year thereafter. Each one focuses on the person with a disability who they are serving as a customer purchasing their employment services, adhering to a guiding principle of personal customer service.
Program Manager Melissa Miller explains that the jobs must be community-based and integrated so that people with disabilities are working alongside people without disabilities and offer minimum-wage or better in order to be considered. As they once did with Jeff Corwin, Melissa’s team seeks to match employers with job seekers who have particular skills or talents that are valued by the employer to ensure satisfaction on both ends.