April 1 was no joke to us – it marked the day we began offering our Supported Employment Services program. Supported employment links individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with meaningful jobs in their communities. Staff working at our Minnick Schools understand the value of this program better than anyone. After all, the students they work with will be its first beneficiaries. We spoke with Educational Coordinator Kim Irvin to find out what makes this program so vital.

Why is a supported employment services program valuable?

This program is vital to the continuing success of all our students. In the Roanoke area, there are several employment services options available to our students; however, our students usually do not qualify for these services because they have additional challenges like shorter attention spans or difficulty communicating.

By extending LFSVA into employment services, our schools can continue this working relationship with families through our employment specialist. This also allows LFSVA to meet the specific needs of our students and their families in their adult lives for however long is needed for that client. In the rural areas of Southwest Virginia, this service is extremely important because there is very little to no options for our graduating students to receive the support they need in the area of employment.

Describe what your students usually end up doing once they graduate from Minnick.

Prior to our adding employment services, there were 3 general results for a student graduating from Minnick. These include:

  1. Gaining unsuccessful employment (obtaining a job but not being able to hold this job for an extended period of time; i.e. no more than 6 months due to behavior support needs, social skills deficits, poor hygiene skills, cognitive delay, etc.)
  2. Attending a day support part-time/full-time and engaging in community experience through volunteer work, church groups, etc. when provided by the caregiver.
  3. Remaining at home full-time, requiring that a caregiver be available to them at all times of the day.

How will this program impact the students you work with?

Immediately it provides the students and their families with the hope that they will gain successful employment. The long-term [impact] is that we will be providing them the continued support they need to maintain this employment. There is extensive research to support that individuals who find and maintain successful employment lead happier and healthier adult lives.

How can local employers get involved?

If employers are interested in providing employment opportunities to individuals with disabilities, all they need to do is contact our Employment Specialist, Ashley Thompson! It’s very easy!!! We have a student who is an adventure movie enthusiast. He has a love for all things Godzilla and Star Wars. He would be a great candidate to work in a small community theater, like the Grandin, where he could be a greeter and tear the ticket stubs. Another individual of ours loves to interact with people, he would make an excellent greeter at a store, concert, or sporting event.

How else can the community support this program?

The best way the community can support this program is to spread the word. The more seeds we plant and the more employers we find who are willing to provide our individuals with life changing possibilities, the better off we will be!

What else do you want people to know about the program?

We are providing these services to all persons with disabilities ages 18 and up. This includes those with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments, (literally, everyone!)

This is not always the case for all employment services providers. Some providers have very specific categories that they cater to, we are open to all!

More about Kim:

An unexpected love for teaching started when Kim was in kindergarten. She attended an inner-city public school in Fresno, CA with a high population of ESL (English as a Second Language) students. She watched a peer struggle to vocalize their desire for snacks day in and day out. One day, she sat across the table and verbally prompted the student through the word “c-o-o-k-i-e”. This took many tries, but when the student was able to vocalize their want, she flagged the teacher down and the student was able to verbalize, appropriately, the item he had been wanting for so long.

For over 10 years now, Kim has worked in the field of special education in various capacities. She has always loved being involved with people and finding out the best ways to help them learn. Now, as the educational coordinator for the Minnick School at Starkey Station, a small school for teens and young adults with complex needs, she gets to help young people on the path to adulthood, independence, and a rewarding life after school. She is also a mom, an avid fan of volleyball and all things JMU Dukes, and a self-proclaimed artist.

Photo caption: Kim making sandwiches for an open house with Harley, a student at one of our Minnick Schools, and a potential participant in the new employment program.