Casey - Written by Ellen Condon, Rural Institute, and Sandi Hart, Mountain Skye Employment and Community Support Services
Casey graduated from high school in June 2009. His future was somewhat unclear at first. His family had connected him to the local Developmental Disabilities program and he had been determined eligible. However, his family hadn't been sure which services they wanted so he wasn't on any waiting lists yet. The wait was going to be three-five years anyway. (Adult services differ from school services in that while a person may be eligible for the adult services they are not "entitled" to these services. Many young adults have to wait until agency supports become available.)
In the summer before his exit year of high school Casey had applied for services from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). VR had contracted with a local employment vendor to perform an evaluation. They wanted to know if Casey was able to work without ongoing support. Could he learn a job with minimal support from a job coach and then work on his own? The evaluator recommended that Casey would need ongoing support in order to work.
The problem was that when Casey graduated there were not yet any formal ongoing supports in place for him. He was waiting for services from Developmental Disabilities. VR couldn't help Casey find and learn a new job until there was separate funding to help him keep his job. Casey's name was placed on the Extended Employment wait list, a service through VR that could provide ongoing on-the-job supports to Casey.
It looked like that would be Casey's transition outcome - graduate from high school and hang out at home and wait. However, Casey was eligible for a PASS plan, a Plan for Achieving Self-Support, which is a work incentive offered through Social Security to encourage SSI recipients to go to work. Casey was receiving Social Security through his Dad who was drawing retirement benefits. This money reduced Casey's monthly SSI check which is what made him eligible for the PASS plan. We were able to access VR services by showing that Casey could use his PASS plan to fund his "ongoing support" for at least 18 months. VR agreed to open Casey's case and paid for his initial job coaching.
Casey's job coach met with Casey, his parents, family members, teachers, and VR to gather information and start the Discovery process. This process allowed Casey's job coach to gather information about what hours of the day Casey was at his best; how he interacted with others; his goals, strengths, and interests; and what types of jobs would work best for Casey. A Portfolio was then completed for Casey that outlined his strengths and interests through photos and narrative information. The Portfolio was used when discussing Casey with employers. Once all the information was collected and meetings were held to determine what businesses would be approached, Casey's job coach met with employers to present what he would bring to their place of employment once hired. Several businesses were contacted before a match between Casey's needs and the employer's needs was established.
Famous Dave's, a BBQ restaurant in Missoula, hired Casey to clean the rungs of chairs, booths, windowsills, high chairs, and menus; dust; fill BBQ sauces; organize tables; and wipe down patio tables and chairs during the summer months. This particular position was created for Casey. Having these duties completed was beneficial for the employer and the tasks were selected and structured for Casey to be most productive and independent. Casey was given a photo task list that organized the tasks he needed to complete. This helped him remember where to start each day and all the steps of his job. He was shown how to clean each rung of the chair and the order of doing so by his job coach. Once he learned the tasks Casey was able to do them independently with his job coach present.
Casey had several setbacks at work. He had two operations and was off work for an extended period of time. Upon returning, he had to re-learn each task with the help of his job coach...he worked hard and re-learned them. His favorite task continues to be stocking the tables with BBQ sauce and organizing tables. His biggest challenge was knowing it was time to clean up and stop working. He doesn't tell time so his job coach worked with him to know the time he would need to clean up by looking at the clock at work. They also tried a watch with a vibrating alarm and a beeping alarm. What finally worked best was having him carry a cell phone with an alarm that goes off when he is to clean up, clock out, and go home. Casey is always ready to leave work at the end of his shift because he doesn't want to miss lunch. His dad provides transportation and drives him to and from work. (The PASS plan also pays his dad's mileage to transport him.)
Casey's job coach was able to fade for short periods of time at first and then totally after Casey learned each task. He now goes to work on his own at Famous Dave's. During his training, Extended Employment funding became available which will provide Casey the ongoing job coaching support he needs to keep his job. They are able to check in on Casey a few times a month to see how he is doing. Casey's co-workers and managers are very supportive of him and enjoy his great sense of humor and hard work. On his birthday his co-workers made him a cake to celebrate and they also celebrated his return to work with a card and cake.
Casey is a very inquisitive man. He loves pigs and used to ask his job coach where they lived and what they ate. He also loves his job and looks forward to working each week. Casey works two days a week for three hours each day. This allows Casey the opportunity to socialize with co-workers and feel a part of the Famous Dave's team. It also provides Casey income so he can attend the YMCA and rock climb, swim, and enjoy social outings. He has gained self-confidence and is now outgoing and excited about new adventures.
One of the most positive aspects of Casey's story is how the various agencies collaborated and shared funding to make his transition to employment possible. The Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects used MT-TIRC grant money to pay an employment agency (JOBS) $1500 to complete the Discovery process and develop the job. Vocational Rehabilitation paid JOBS another $3,180 for the initial job coaching. Casey used his PASS plan to pay a job coach for an additional 126 hours of support and also used the PASS to pay his dad's mileage to transport him to and from work. Casey's family managed his PASS plan.
The Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects staff wrote the PASS plan to demonstrate the use of PASS in transition. The Transition and Employment Projects access various funds to pilot and demonstrate effective strategies but don't typically write PASS plans as a service. Employment vendors, Vocational Rehabilitation and WIPAs can help locate someone to provide this service.
To promote the smoothest transition from school to work, set the goal of placement in a paid job prior to graduation early on. Middle school is not too early to talk about this expectation. As an IEP team discuss how to support each young adult at home, in school, and in community work experience to be as independent, self-directing and competent as possible. Treat each work experience as a step to the student's adult life, not just as a class they take in high school. Make sure that information learned about the student's skills, support needs and ideal conditions for employment is captured after each work experience. (One way to do this is by completing a Work Experience Summary.) This is great information to share with Vocational Rehabilitation and Developmental Disabilities staff and to apply to the next work experience. Most importantly we need to be identifying youth who might be eligible to use a PASS plan to fund some of their employment supports. Without the PASS Casey would have been waiting almost two years after high school graduation to go to work.