At Dunwoody - New Twin Cities program helps people get back to work

People with disabilities face high unemployment rates as well as assumptions that they cannot work. A creative new retail training program, offered by Opportunity Partners and Arc Greater Twin Cities in cooperation with Dunwoody College of Technology, will provide training to get more people into the work force.

The program should boost job opportunities and eventually greater independence for people with disabilities. The certified training program is designed around existing jobs and employer needs, and developed into course curriculum by Dunwoody’s Custom Training & Continuing Education department. Opportunity Partners adapts the curriculum to be delivered to students with disabilities. Arc’s Value Village Thrift Store & Donation Center serves as the training site. Currently, five students ages 18-21 are taking part in the pilot program. Once they graduate from the five-week program, they will earn a joint certificate from Opportunity Partners and Dunwoody College.

“With our expertise in how people with disabilities learn, Dunwoody’s experience in curriculum development, and the opportunity to use Arc’s Value Village stores for community-based training, we make a dynamic team for people with disabilities who want to train and succeed in employment,” said Opportunity Partners President & CEO George Klauser.

This is the second certified educational track in which Opportunity Partners has collaborated with Dunwoody. The first program, professional cleaning was launched in 2010. “We want to raise the bar on employment of people with disabilities,” said Kim Keprios, Chief Executive Officer of Arc Greater Twin Cities.

“Having a job opens doors to a better life. Work brings us purpose, greater financial security, and social connections and friendships. We all want to take pride in what we do and in knowing we are contributing to the community.”

The need for increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities is great, as illustrated in a June national study by The Arc. Still in the Shadows with Their Future Uncertain, a report on Family and Individual Needs for Disability Supports (FINDS), outlines the many challenges people with intellectual/developmental disabilities face in trying to find work. In 1988, only 21,000 people with I/DD were participating in supported/competitive employment in the U.S. By 2006, more than 117,000 people were participating in supported/competitive employment.

The report indicates that many more people could be working. In a survey that was part of this same report, 85 percent of families indicated that adult family members with I/DD were not employed, either full-time or part-time. Of the 15 percent who said their family member was employed, only 41 percent worked in a regular job in the community.

Just over half of them earn at least minimum wage. In the new Opportunity Partners-Arc-Dunwoody program, enrollees earn $7.25 per hour during the training. The pilot covers three levels of retail associate training and on-the-job work experience. Both Opportunity Partners and Arc Greater Twin Cities have raised funds through donations and grants to supplement costs of the pilot program.

Opportunity Partners is a Twin Cities nonprofit organization serving 1,700 people with disabilities annually through employment, training and residential programs. More information can be found at www.OpportunityPartners.org Arc Greater Twin Cities is an advocacy organization whose mission is to help all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families realize their goals of where and how they live, learn, work and play. More information can be found at www.Arcgreatertwincities.org

Dunwoody College of Technology is a private, not-for-profit, endowed institution of higher education. It is one of the few institutions of its kind in the nation, and has been a champion of applied education throughout its history. Its mission is to provide students with a high-quality technical education that result in an immediate job and a fulfilling career. More information can be found at www.dunwoody.edu