Programs for youth with disabilities get key grants

Five $100,000 “Innovation in Transition” grants will fund projects exploring creative approaches to job placement and career development for people ages 14 to 25 years old that have significant disabilities. Working closely with employers throughout Minnesota, the projects will involve multiple governmental, educational, and nonprofit organizations.

“We expect that these pilot projects will help us, along with our community partners and employers, develop new models to better serve young people whose disabilities might be viewed as barriers to their ability to find meaningful work and live independently,” said Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development (DEED) Commissioner Dan McElroy. DEED’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services awarded the grants using part of its $6.3 million federal economic stimulus allocation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. DEED anticipates career development opportunities for at least 120 young people in metro and rural parts of the state, as a result of the grant.

THE FIVE PILOT PROJECTS
Introduction to Green Technology, White Earth Band of Ojibwa, Vocational Rehabilitation
Fifteen young people with disabilities, who are enrolled members or descendents of a federally recognized tribe, will participate in this project. Participants will build and install solar panels to provide supplemental heating in their family homes, while exploring the renewable energy industry through field trips, expert speakers, and research activities. In addition, students will receive training on how to create business and marketing plans. Each participant who completes the course will receive a stipend. The project gets underway this fall.

MEC/VECTOR School-to-Career Transition Program
This collaborative project involves the Minnesota Employment Center for People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (MEC) and the Vocational Education Community Training & Occupational Relations Transition Program (VECTOR) from Independent School District 287 in Brooklyn Park, Richfield and Eden Prairie. The project will enroll 30 young people who are deaf or hard of hearing and focus on overcoming communication challenges. The University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration will evaluate the project and developing standards that could be replicated for other kinds of disabilities.

Digital Media, Communications and Computer- Based Careers, PACER Center
Twin Cities-based PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights), in partnership with Bemidji State University and South Central College in St. Peter, will offer internships for up to 20 young people with disabilities to learn the skills required in digital media, communications and other computer-based careers. Participants will earn competitive wages as they produce video vignettes that describe programs and services for people with disabilities. Partnering schools will offer internships for eight to 10 students in each of the two communities: a yearlong program in Bemidji and a semester-long course in St. Peter. Videos will be disseminated on Facebook, YouTube and partner Web sites. PACER staff will present parent workshops focusing on strategies that help youth with disabilities prepare for, find and keep a job, and provide advocacy and information services on youth employment issues.

Employment First Anoka County
Employment First Anoka County (EFAC) will offer 40 young people with a wide range of disabilities the opportunity to obtain industry sector skills, training and career education. The goal is to obtain integrated employment in health care industry jobs, with competitive wages and benefits, for 30 participants. The project is designed to be replicated by other highgrowth industry sectors, service populations and geo-graphic locations. EFAC partners include Anoka County WorkForce Center, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Anoka Technical College, six north suburban school districts (Anoka-Hennepin, Spring Lake Park, Fridley, Columbia Heights, Centennial, and St. Francis), Anoka County Community Transition Interagency Committee, Anoka County Human Services, Employers Association of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration, and Rise, Inc.

Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota
This project will enroll 20 students in the Willmar area who have emotional or behavioral disorders or mental illness, as well as students with these disabilities who have dropped out of school, become involved in the court system, lack a support system or have not succeeded in other employment programs. Project goals include providing transferable skills to participants, placing at least 80 percent of them into competitive employment, and creating solid evaluation and sustainability plans. Goodwill/Easter Seals will partner with CashWise Foods, Kandiyohi County Community Corrections, Rice Memorial Hospital, Woodland Centers, and the University of Minnesota’s National Resilience Resource Center.