April 21, 2013

Wichita-area groups seek partnerships with businesses to hire more people with developmental disabilities

Last year, Davis-Moore began a partnership with Starkey Inc. and hired three of its clients to work at one of the city’s largest auto dealers.

Last year, Davis-Moore began a partnership with Starkey Inc. and hired three of its clients to work at one of the city’s largest auto dealers.

It was a first for Davis-Moore, and nearly a year later, a company official uses one word to describe the partnership: terrific.

“These young men came on board, learned their job(s) and have just become part of the team,” said Sean Hudspeth, Davis-Moore’s director of human resources and risk management.

Starkey, a Wichita-based nonprofit organization that provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, wants to partner with more area businesses. Starkey officials said they have 27 clients placed with Davis-Moore and a variety of other businesses, from drugstores to big box stores and manufacturers.

But their goal is to have 50 clients placed with employers.

“We believe that the biggest part of our task is finding those opportunities, working with employers to show that the person’s disability is not a limitation,” said Colin McKenney, Starkey’s CEO.

At Davis-Moore, Starkey has three clients whose jobs include helping in the parts department, maintaining customer service areas and cleaning vehicle interiors.

Starkey officials said their clients work a minimum of 20 hours a week and are paid $7.75 an hour.

“In our eyes, it is a win-win, because it helps us fill some key roles in our organization and provides employment to individuals with special needs,” Hudspeth said.

Kandi Goforth, an assistant vice president and office services manager for Fidelity Bank, has had a Starkey client working for her for nearly 16 years.

Goforth said the relationship with Starkey started years earlier when the second-largest financial institution based in Wichita had the organization do some work inserting letters.

“They were such compassionate and caring … and devoted employees that when we had a need for a part-time employee, we decided Starkey was the way to go,” she said.

For the past nine years, Jonathan Miller has worked part time for Fidelity, inserting letters into envelopes, operating a mailing machine with assistance and double-checking payment envelopes mailed to Fidelity to make sure no checks have been left in them.

Miller’s “passion and dedication is remarkable,” Goforth said.

Miller replaced another Starkey client who retired from Fidelity after working there for seven years, Goforth said.

‘A priority’

Hudspeth said Starkey clients who work for Davis-Moore came to the company trained in “job-readiness skills.”

“So from the employer’s standpoint, all we had to do was share the job that we needed done with them,” he said.

Hudspeth added that Starkey provided a job coach for its clients who worked with them initially and does periodic follow-up.

“If an employer has an opportunity that they can fill with a person from Starkey or … other organizations looking to place people in jobs in our community, then I would recommend they seize that opportunity, because it’s not as difficult as they may think,” he said.

The Sedgwick County Developmental Disability Organization is undertaking a couple of efforts to increase the area employment of those with developmental disabilities, said its director, Dee Staudt.

“Research has informed us that what works best in terms of employers getting on board is that businesses talk with businesses (that employ the disabled) and make that return-on-investment case,” Staudt said.

John Sullivan, SCDDO’s assistant director, said that after identifying people capable of working, the agency’s employment training staff members try to match clients with jobs in which they have an interest, not just any job.

“People with intellectual disabilities can work, they want to work,” Sullivan said of the new training approach. “If you do it right, it can be successful.”

Staudt said her agency also is working to establish the Business Leadership Network of Sedgwick County, a public-private effort that enables businesses considering hiring those with disabilities to hear about the experiences of businesses that already do so.

The network also will allow companies to learn best practices from each other, she said.

Lorien Showalter, SCDDO’s special projects coordinator, said several local companies have volunteered to help establish the business network, which is in the early stages of development.

“There is a movement, a priority, if you will, to employ people first and to look at helping people with disabilities … through competitive employment,” Staudt said.

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