Damien Dishes with State Representative Jean Evans

Employment Resources Program participant Damien Bruening and Employment Specialist Duane Gruis met at Bandana’s in Manchester recently with Missouri State Representative Jean Evans as part of “Take Your Legislator to Work Month.” Rep. Evans is a member of the Missouri Workforce Development Committee and responded quickly to the invitation to meet with Damien and UCP Heartland.

Missouri State Rep. Jean Evans (L) visits UCP Heartland Employment Resources program participant Damien (M) and Employment Specialist Duane (R) at Bandana’s Bar-B-Q as part of “Take your Legislator to Work Month”.

Damien’s visit with Rep. Evans is one of three visits UCP Heartland will be making in October as part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The goal of these visits is to demonstrate for legislators the valuable contributions that people living with disabilities can make in the workforce. It is also hoped that legislators will sponsor bills that benefit people with disabilities in employment.

Judy Grainger, UCP Heartland VP of Programs, said many job seekers have challenges in the job application process. These challenges become greater when an applicant has limited communication skills. Program participants like Damien benefit from working with employers who are flexible when interviewing people.

“Bandana’s was the first business that would consider allowing Damien to have a working interview when he was job seeking,” Grainger said. “Because Damien has limited verbal skills, Damien’s Employment Specialist with UCP Heartland, Duane Gruis, asked Bandana’s to have Damien demonstrate his abilities in the kitchen through a working interview.”

Gruis explained how a “working interview” functions. “A working interview is set up so the person with a disability does actual work to show the employer how they would perform the job every day,” Gruis said. “This approach worked better for Damien because he does not do as well going through a traditional interview process. Since Damien has a volunteer job as a dishwasher at Mercy Hospital’s Heart Hospital on Mondays, he was familiar with the dishwashing machine and working in a commercial kitchen.”

Grainger said the working interview was the key to Damien’s successful job application. “Within 10 minutes of training and instruction, Damien was efficiently washing dishes. He was hired on the spot as a weekend dishwasher for Bandana’s BBQ.”

Skill-based interviews are just one of many creative ways employers can connect with potential employees living with a disability. Rep. Evans said, “We have people with disabilities that want to work and employers who need employees. We just need to get them together.”

Describing Damien as a “model employee” who is always pleasant, courteous and dedicated to his job, Rep. Evans said she will put out the word “If you’re in need of great employees, here’s a number,” and will refer them to UCP Heartland’s outstanding Employment Resources program.

UCP Heartland’s Record Growth in Employment Program

UCP Heartland experienced record-breaking growth in our Employment Education and Training Program with 141 individuals currently in training, preparing for competitive employment—the highest number actively in the program to date.

The Employment Education and Training Program is 240 hours, or 12 weeks, of coaching in areas such as housekeeping, laundry, banquet services and guest services. Trainees focus on building specific job skills with a goal of being ready for employment at the end of the program.

Providing this training is one of UCP Heartland’s key areas of care because of the crucial need for such aid in St. Louis City and County, where over 114,000 individuals are living with a disability. With only 44% of working-age adults with intellectual disabilities in the labor force, UCP Heartland recognizes the importance of a helping hand in employment education and training.

In a partnership with local hotel management companies, UCP Heartland has been able to create an employer-driven paid education and training program to answer the need in the community. The comprehensive collaboration was founded in St. Louis with The Hyatt and has since secured anchor hospitality partners including but not limited to Marriott, Holiday Inn, Drury, Pedestal Foods and Hyatt Regency.

Donor funding alleviated a UCP Heartland gap in funding, so that the highest quality of education and training could continue to improve and expand in the furthering of job skills and placement of adults (21 or older) with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

UCP Heartland is expecting a 1.5% cut in public funding following a recent Missouri legislature decision. However, UCP Heartland is committed to continue improving and expanding the Employment Education and Training Program to help more individuals with disabilities gain the education and training they need to make a positive impact on the community.