KenCrest Celebrates Disability Employment Awareness in October
KenCrest celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) by advocating for people with disabilities.
By Sydney Kerelo
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), with this year’s theme, “Advancing Access and Equity,” to honor the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is the foundation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that now stands, which is a vital tool used to advance access and equity for workers from underserved communities.
Led by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) recognizes the vital role people with disabilities play in a diverse and inclusive workplace and raises awareness about disability importance issues.
Since 1984, KenCrest has recognized and advocated for people with disabilities in the workplace through its employment program. It matches people we support with intellectual, developmental, and physical disability with paid employment opportunities. The program includes the customized self-employment program that helps our clients establish their businesses, Benefits Counseling, and our school-to-career transition programs, including the ACES program that provides school districts additional support and our Project SEARCH program at Phoenixville Hospital.
“We provide on-the-job support for adults with disabilities,” says Employment Supervisor Sharon Skirkie. “We also provide job development services, including reviewing resumes, practicing interviewing, and helping to find interests and skills for a job that may be nontraditional. We never want to miss an opportunity to carve out a job that works towards the people we support strengths and passions, whether that be a hobby, making jewelry, or even woodworking.”
Lula, a KenCrest’s Community Based Living Program member, started her baking business making cookies for local parties and festivals. She had her first baking gig at KenCrest’s 2022 Master’s event in May and continues baking in her free time. Lula is one of many people we support who have started their businesses.
“We’ve been spearheading the nontraditional employment for those who want to be self-employed,” says KenCrest’s Benefits Counselor Linda Sopp. “We want to help people become independent, but everybody will differ in their desires and abilities. So, we maximize those abilities and help them realize they can do this and make a career out of anything.”
“In addition to working with people with disabilities, we also get referrals for the [Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation] OVR for those with mental health challenges like depression or anxiety,” adds Skirkie. “We may only work with them for a short time, but we try to help them succeed.”
Plus, being a part of KenCrest’s employment program allows each participant access to the Ticket to Work program and Benefits Counseling. These programs help those receiving Social Security support understand their benefits and make the best financial decisions to be stable and independent.
Alongside the adult employment programs, KenCrest offers multiple programs for students, including its Project SEARCH program for youths transitioning from school to career. Project SEARCH is a person-centered internship program that offers onsite classroom teachings and onsite training at the Phoenixville Hospital.
“Project SEARCH started at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with over 200 locations internationally,” says Donna Clemons, the Fiscal Liaison for Employment Services. “Out of the 10 Pennsylvania sites, we were one of the first ones. We partner with Phoenixville Hospital, where our interns gain experience in the cafeteria, environmental services, and clerical work.”
This is the third year since COVID hit that KenCrest’s Project SEARCH program was in person at the hospital.
KenCrest’s employment program focuses on all areas of employment for the people we support from youth to adulthood to ensure that each person is financially stable and independent.
“We have talented and skilled people that are dedicated and will show up to work with a passion for what they’re doing,” says Skirkie. “We come with a variety of different applicants with a variety of different skills that can add proficiency and efficiency to the workforce. They bring a culture of acceptance and diversity too.”