The Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) awarded the APSE Organizational Best Practice Award during the #APSE2020 Virtual Conference.
This award is presented to recognize a provider organization that has successfully implemented strategies to support those with disabilities to work and further their career path in an inclusive workforce.
This year, APSE is honored and humbled in recognizing the contributions of the 2020 nominees and winner, Kota Connections.
Kota Connections provides employment services to ensure that each individual with a disability finds meaningful employment in a rural part of Dakota County, Minnesota. Kota Connections is run by Dave Modrynski and a team of dedicated staff. Prior to providing employment services Kota Connections supported individuals in individualized community living settings. They are a family run organization who believes all people, regardless of their disability, should be treated with dignity and respect and should be living and working in integrated settings. Their unique approach to services was recognized and the organization was encouraged to jump into the realm of employment services and supports in 2015. They began searching for jobs one person at a time. When one person found a job the next person started their job search; with a 100% success rate for each and every job seeker. They grew from a team of one to a team of 5 full time employment staff and maintain their 100% success rate still today; supporting over 75 individuals in competitive integrated employment. They joined APSE and even as a small organization they committed to sending several reps to each national conference. To call them employment champions really wouldn't even begin to do their agency justice. They live and breathe employment and will go above and beyond to ensure that they provide high quality services.
One of the largest barriers to employment in the area is a lack of transportation. Kota Connections has partnered with Dakota County and has done a tremendous amount of work in ensuring that each individual who wants to work has access to transportation to and from their jobs. Dakota County piloted the use of Lyft, Inc. as a transportation solution for people in Dakota County to get to and from jobs. Kota Connections was our sole partner for the first 6 months of the pilot; coordinating with the county and families through focus groups, info nights, Q & A sessions, and endless troubleshooting. As with many government initiatives we were delayed again and again and Kota Connection's leadership and staff were on the front lines of explaining to indivdiuals and families that the start date was again moved further into the future. They persisted patiently and have helped us roll out the Lyft service for employment access to nearly 400 individual riders with disabilities in Dakota County.
Nominated by Megan Zeilinger
Congratulations to Kota Connections! APSE 2020 Best Practices Award Winner
About the Nominees
RCM of Washington, Inc. (RCM) continues to reinvent itself so that it can be a leader in Employment First. First, RCM was one of the first providers in the District of Columbia to close its facilities and offer exclusively community-based day programs. RCM did this before there were incentivized services and rates for community-based programs and their work was foundational for the design of a more integrated service delivery system.
Bernard Crawford, People Planning Together Trainer & Person Supported. Bernard works part time: “RCM is doing good. I am a member of their board. RCM taught me new things. They taught me how to get and job, and how to save money. RCM is a good organization”
Robert Kennedy, RCM Community Navigator & Person Supported: “They are doing a great job helping our people teaching people in the DSP Academy. It is beautiful – getting people jobs. And even for people who don’t end working as DSPs, they are helping them get different jobs. Things are really happening that are positive! I work in RCM Human Resources. I help make sure the people they hire are the right fit to support people in their homes and in the community.”
Steven Powe, SARTAC fellow & Person Supported. Steven works at a grocery store and at the polls: “They are doing a good job, fighting for me. Since my mom passed away, they have really stepped up. It’s been tough, but they have been there for me.”
Carmela Mack, graduate of the DSP Academy, quoted in Disability Scoop, 9/9/2019: “There are not enough people trying to advocate for people with disabilities. I’m going to love this job because I’ve been through this and I know what it feels like to not be supported. I can connect with them because that was me.”
Maedi Tanham Carney, Parent. Her daughter does customized employment with supports from RCM: “Innovative and hardworking, diligent on solving problems.”
Nominated by Erin Leveton
Stone Belt Employment Services staff have been on the board of the new Work to Include initiative that is gathering information and creating space for the Employment First law to become more of a reality. As a member of the chamber, staff attend multiple networking events monthly to ensure an agency presence for the disability community. encompasses many different opportunities for support of individuals with disabilities. They manage a pre-employment transition services contract serving close to 500 students with 4 other providers across 13 counties. The program has created many unique opportunities to work on pre-ETS skills, including unique classes outside of the schools to work on social skills, workplace readiness training, self-advocacy, and pursuing post-secondary opportunities.
As students age out of pre-ETS and move into VR services, there is the option to apply for Project Search. Stone Belt’s Project Search program is unique as the first young adult model of its kind in the state. With 86 interns completing the program since 2010 and 70 of those finding permanent employment, Stone Belt’s Project Search placement rate is 81%.
Stone Belt is viewed as an agency that runs a top of the line program. Many employment agencies from outside counties have sent staff to Stone Belt to shadow and train. This is done at no cost to those other programs but as a way to reach as many individuals with disabilities throughout the state as possible. A participant who now works full-time with benefits at Stone Belt has said "Thanks to all who have supported and encouraged me (at Stone Belt), I will use the opportunities given me by Stone Belt to help others grow and create the lives they want".
Nominated by Jonathan Kraeszig
2019 APSE Best Practices Award Winner
CHS has been a leader in supporting people for over 60 years. And in fact opened one of the first workshops in the state. In 2015, CHS was supported by a grant from the Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council to attend a national APSE training in Detroit MI called Workshops to Workplaces Ann Graff, their executive director commented on that event and said it was never CHS’s intention to close our workshops, but we came back from that training and other trainings with the vision we could do better in supporting people. Then carefully they supported each individual to achieve that person goals and one by one people chose to move into community employment and as a result on June 30, 2018 CHS closed the doors of their sheltered workshop for the last time. Throughout this journey to improve the services and supports CHS looked at themselves and
their organization and found a few places that needed re-evaluating. Kim Anderson, Director of Employment for CHS said, “ We found that even within our own organization we had people working in groups and for sub-minimum wages.” Not only did CHS close two workshops they eliminated all subminimum and enclave positions in their organization.