Rise, Inc.’s Minnesota Employment Center celebrates 30 years’ service in 2023. The program began because people referred to Rise’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) job programs were having difficulty maintaining employment.
“Communication issues or another concern would pop up, and people would quit. Then they would come back to VRS and start again. It became a cycle, and we realized there was a need for a program with a specific goal to support job stability in the deaf community,” said MEC program manager Sheila Ritter.
In 2015 MEC expanded outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Growth was slow, and many local organizations were skeptical that the new support services from MEC would last because other programs had not. “Supporting people in rural areas is very different from urban areas,” Ritter said. “Up until that point, there hadn’t been a person-to-person connection with people.”
Long-team team members have helped provide stability.
MEC is continuing to change and grow to offer more person-centered support. In the summer of 2021, the St. Paul office relocated as a result of a new partnership with ThinkSelf, a deaf-led adult support organization that provides education, literacy expansion, goal setting and workforce readiness. Future initiatives will bring support programs in line with statewide changes that blend VRS services and waiver funding. Those plans are still being formed, but eventually could lead to additional growth, including more people to support, new funding mechanisms and likely more team members too.
Robert Reedy, senior director of vocational services at Rise, said figuring out how many people could eventually be served is difficult because state data is currently unavailable. “Deaf people are underserved because there aren’t enough support people who are qualified to meet their needs,” Reedy said. “They haven’t always been able to receive services from someone who understands what it is like to work with someone who is deaf, deafblind, or hard of hearing.”