The Ripple Effect of Customized Employment in Rhode Island Nonprofits

By Sara Porcaro | Apr 26, 2022
PCSEPP, BHDDH, Employment, Opportunity, IDD, Disabilities, Rhode Island, ADA, Empower, Equality, Skills, Future
From Left to Right: Kelly, Danna, Tia, and Christina

Two years ago, in the beginning of the whirlwind that was the COVID-19 pandemic, Rhode Island service providers took on a project funded by the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH). It was an initiative in the works before the pandemic, bringing about the third generation of the Person Centered Supported Employment Program (PCSEPP), and within the proposal were goals, steps, and collaborations to help individuals not only find work in their communities, but create those opportunities through customized employment practices.
Of course, where the pandemic initially made the program's goals more difficult, we see now two years later that the spirit of PCSEPP--of customized employment, of awareness for individuals with disabilities and the talents they have to offer--is stronger than ever. It's brought newfound skills, new connections, and new opportunities to the table for individuals with disabilities--and one partner organization, Skills for Rhode Island's Future, is making space for PCSEPP's most important goals in their everyday operations through WorkABILITY.

The Purpose and Aims of SkillsRI

"The goal of SkillsRI has always been to level the playing field," says Senior Recruiter Kelly Doern. “But as we were doing our work to serve the under – and unemployed people in Rhode Island, we knew there were areas where we could improve, namely with the I/DD population of jobseekers. We weren’t confident with how to engage; we needed a specialist.”
That specialist came in the form of SkillsRI's Senior Manager of Customized Employment, Danna Spencer. She came aboard in 2020 and became the key professional liaison between SkillsRI and the rest of PCSEPP's professionals. Together with Perspectives, AccessPoint RI, the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center, Able Opportunities, Inc., and the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMASS Boston, Danna and the SkillsRI team worked to do what they do best: become the connecting point between job seekers and employers. And with Danna's background, expertise, and connections in human services, she brought the spirit of PCSEPP into the local Rhode Island agency and helped fill in the gaps of employment service.
"What SkillsRI is doing now, especially with customized employment, is something that I hope will become statewide."
"PCSEPP really let me come into SkillsRI and do the work to enhance our procedures, build up our expertise in this area," Danna says. "With the start of WorkABILITY, too, and the training that followed for our recruiters, we knew: any supports and services we can offer the bulk of our clients, we can offer to our clients in the I/DD community, too."
What SkillsRI is doing now, especially with customized employment, is something that I hope will become statewide," adds Career Intake Specialist JaTia (Tia) Rollins. "It really opens up so many more opportunities to people who want to work."

WorkABILITY Changing the Game for Rhode Islanders with Disabilities

The SkillsRI WorkABILITY Initiative is one that works to "identify new sources of underrepresented talent," working with agencies like Perspectives to find enthusiastic individuals who are looking to bring their skills to their communities. They work as the mediators between employer and potential employee, discussing potential accommodations and expectations of the job, investigating potential workplace conditions, and providing consultation to businesses looking to further diversify their workforces. With Danna's expertise and the start of this initiative, recruiters already employed at SkillsRI were trained to better understand and support clients with I/DD, and some professionals, like Tia and Supported Employment Coordinator Christina Battista, came aboard learning the person-centered and customized employment approach from the start.
"I wish there was something like WorkABILITY when I was looking for a job," says Christina. "As someone with a visible disability myself, it's something employers notice right away. But here at SkillsRI, I find that this actually gives me an edge; I have a connection with clients with disabilities that helps them open up more, so we can find them the perfect fit."
"It helps, having people who are on your side and understand you," Tia says. "I had a lot of barriers in starting my career, and I wanted to be on the other side of the hiring situation, doing what I can to help people find jobs they love."
The focus, the ambition, and the genuine wish to see others succeed is there at SkillsRI--and now, with WorkABILITY, they've only expanded their knowledge, connections, and resources to serve the people of Rhode Island. What started with the PCSEPP program, a two-year initiative, has become an integral piece of this organization's everyday working, and that speaks not only to the effectiveness of the program itself, but to the dedication of the professionals that believe in its mission. As human services agencies like Perspectives continue to support individuals in finding customized employment, we're glad to have allies like SkillsRI on our side, and we're excited to see where the future takes us!


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