Real Jobs With Real Pay

By Lynn Wiles
Bethesda Lutheran Communities

Bethesda Lutheran Communities’ Portland office is heading up a pilot project in Supported Employment, offering “real jobs with real pay” to the individuals we support – those both from Bethesda residential programs, as well as from outside referral sources such as the State Vocational Rehabilitation office and county DD branches. Portland serves a three-county area.

In July of last year, I started managing the supported employment venture.

At this time, Portland has seven people working in community-based jobs for at least minimum wage:

  • One works in the front office of the Bethesda Portland site – answering the phone as a back-up to the receptionist, balancing Visa statements, copying, collating and performing other basic office tasks. Roy Soards and Bethesda Portland made an immediate commitment to walk the talk and hire someone into a Bethesda staff position.
  • Another individual works at a high-end restaurant at the Portland International Airport – folding napkins and rolling silverware into them, wiping down menus and cleaning glass before the restaurant opens for business at lunch time.
  • Yet another works at an all organic food market that is part of a regional chain – cleaning and stocking the café’ and deli dining room area. All of these individuals have stable employment and are doing a great job!
  • Finally, an individual who Bethesda supports just started working at an auto spa as a detailer and is learning many new skills.
  • Portland also employs three individuals on a mobile crew that performs landscape maintenance services to Bethesda residential and other community properties. These individuals receive minimum wage and are integrated into the community, yet they also receive close supervision through Bethesda job coaches which is important for them.

Portland was recently awarded a contract through the state Vocational Rehabilitation office and anticipates many referrals from this source in the coming months and years.

Bethesda Portland is also part of the Multnomah County Employment First Task Force – an effort that provides classroom and hands-on training to job developers and job coaches in the area. I’m part of the training team – offering mentoring to new job developers.

The Employment First philosophy states that “everyone can work with the proper supports.”

Oregon was an early leader in the Supported Employment movement.

When individuals and their families have questions and concerns about Social Security benefits, they are referred to one of two local agencies in Portland that provide “disability benefits navigation and planning.” Each person is seen individually to determine their “picture” of employment with Social Security benefits – so that the latter can be maintained while they work part time. At this juncture, no one from the Bethesda Portland program has gone to work full time or relinquished their benefits.

My next blog will focus on the skill set that is needed and sought out for job coaches. This is a skill set that can be learned and a career niche which has the potential for significant growth in the coming years as more and more states stop feeding the dinosaur and become part of the supported employment movement.

Lynn Wiles is a veteran job developer and employment specialist, as well as a certified vocational rehabilitation counselor. Most recently, she worked as a private contractor to Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind for many years before becoming part of the Bethesda team last July. She sits on the board of the East Multnomah County One Stop Career Center and started the Portland Metro Area Job Developers Network which now has more than 200 member agencies.

2 Responses

  1. All I can say is Yahoo! I kknow that there is work out there and it takes someone who knows how to navigate the system to find the jobs. Portland is blessed to have a person whose sole focus is Supported Employment.

    Wouldn’t it be great if the people we serve were seen as no different from anyone else and therefore considered for any job they are capable of doing.rather than having to have someone who has to focus on this area?! I know the day is coming and it will take people like Lynn to pave the way for us.

    Unfortunately, here in Fremont, Califoronia, I have run into things like one of the local hospitals where they flat out told us there is just no way that the people we serve can even volunteer there because “they have to pass the training” adn we could not weven have someone there to help someone pass the test orally.

    What a difference between Califiornia and Oregon!

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Chris! I have dealt with “difficult” employers who are mired in old thinking and can’t see their way out of the box. When I first started working with Fred Meyer/Kroger Groceries years ago, our folks could not “pass the test” (an on-line personaility profile is really what it is) although they could do the work. I explained to top HR management that these job candidates should be given equal access and accommodations under the ADA. The employer changed their ways, and allowed us (job developers and coaches contracting with vocational rehabilitation) to sit with the applicants at the computer, read the test questions to them, help them navigate the testing site, etc.

      It looks really bad for a large, well-known business – or organization such as a hospital – to flat out refuse to accommodate people. I’ve even told a few employers that very thing when I had to – that it’s not good PR.

      Remember there are laws that – at times, anyway – can work in your favor when trying to find paid or volunteer experiences for individuals. You don’t always have to threaten legal action either. Just forcing the dialogue can do the trick. Sometimes you can ask a question rather than being demonstrative in a statement. For example, “Do you accommodate people with disabilties under the ADA?” If they say “no” – which would be surprising in itself – you can ask “why not?” and then pursue it from there. Go up the chain.

      I wish you the best in CA.

      Lynn Wiles

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