Sunday, May 22, 2005

Staying One Step Ahead


It had all of the makings of a sinister conspiracy. About two months ago, I fired off this e-mail message to Jon Alexander, Kaposia’s Director of Operations: "OK, this sounds like a secret plot just to get me to admit that my favorite employment consultant works for the competition!"
Perhaps I was a bit jealous that "Alex" had just hired this promising, young professional who is inspired to make a difference in the lives of adults with significant disabilities?
Jon Alexander, is a colleague and friend of mine who once worked for my organization, Rise, Incorporated. He worked as an employment consultant for us before being promoted to manage two national demonstration programs promoting the concepts of natural job support and school-to-career transition for youth and young adults with significant disabilities. Alex left Rise approximately seven years ago to assume senior management responsibilities at Kaposia, Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Kaposia provides supported employment, retirement services, and community integration support for people with significant disabilities and other barriers. The organization’s motto is One Step Ahead and they are widely-recognized as experts in the provision of supported employment services for adults with significant disabilities. Under 31 years of leadership by its Executive Director, Jackie Mlynarczyk, Kaposia has blazed a trail by successfully converting its center-based services to models of integrated employment and community services. This agency and its talented management team are recipients of numerous national awards and recognitions for service excellence. In sum, I have the highest regard and respect for these colleagues.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota with degrees in Psychology and Mass Communication, this particular job applicant worked for three years as an academic advisor at U of M’s School of Journalism. Recently, she decided to leave her public service position at the University to find a job with a broader range of responsibilities in the private, not-for-profit sector. The job applicant was offered the opportunity to join Kaposia’s team of 75 professionals. She accepted this offer due to the organization’s progressive philosophy and reputation for high quality services.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with Kaposia’s new employee about her job. As an employment consultant, she delivers job support to people with significant disabilities as well as training consultation to their respective employers. All of these individuals are employed in customized, integrated jobs in the Twin Cities’ workforce. The employment consultant spoke with excitement about her position and the training preparation she has received. "I just love the rewards and day-to-day challenges associated with this job," she shared with me.
I could tell rather quickly that this professional’s instincts are right on target. She spoke with clarity about the importance of having paid employment and work structures in the lives of adults with significant disabilities. She shared about how critical it was to actively engage employers and co-workers in the job support of their employees with disabilities to gain more effective workplace supevision and inclusion. She discussed about how hard she is working as a newcomer to gain the trust of all of her customers including employers, employees, County case managers, residential providers, family members, Kaposia colleagues, and others.
The employment specialist was direct and didn't mince her words. She spoke with frustration about someone who did not speak directly to, but rather about, an individual with a disability during his annual meeting. She expressed proper concern about the inadequate level of support a vulnerable adult she is working with has been receiving at home. She shared about how she is working to address this issue.
With some emotion, she shared a sad story about a young man’s disappointing weekend because he was unable to get a ride to a cemetery on Mother’s Day. The young man had hoped to leave flowers on the grave of his deceased mother. He had taken this sadness and frustration to work with him the following day.
The employment consultant challenged her elder about why more people with significant disabilities aren’t being given the same opportunities to work in integrated jobs. I didn’t have a good enough answer to satisfy her.
She spoke with me about needing job progression opportunities for an individual she is presently working with who is underemployed. Although she does not presently do job development, she discussed the importance of using customized approaches to create more jobs for people with significant disabilities. And finally, she shared her creative ideas about how she is hoping to help increase job placement opportunities for people served by Kaposia.
Wow! I must admit it. This bright, young professional who has a job tenure of only two months impressed me with her enthusiasm and views. There is little question that we are kindred spirits who share the same personal values and professional goals.
I have worked at Rise, Incorporated for 29 years now and I have invested a lot of time and energy to help our company build a team of winning professionals. And I am very competitive by nature. So it does not come very easy for me to admit this publicly, but Kaposia has indeed hired my favorite employment consultant.
This promising young professional at Kaposia is my daughter, Kelly Lavin.
For more information about Kaposia Inc., check out their Website at www.kaposia.com

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