November 2011

Featured Emerging Leader

Transition and Employment Projects

One of the goals of the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects is to expand the vision of what is possible for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities to learn, live, work and play in their communities. We have been capturing stories of Montanans under age 34 who have a developmental disability according to the Montana definition and who have creatively organized their supports to:


  • Live in the community (on their own or with family or friends) and/or
  • Work in the community (including owning their own business) and/or
  • Access inclusive education (high school, college, community classes) and/or
  • Participate in recreation and leisure activities that are inclusive (that is, alongside people without disabilities)

Each month or so, we share one of these stories with Listserv members. You may also read about Montana's Emerging Leaders in our Featured EL Archives, 2009 EL Showcase [PDF] and 2010 EL Showcase [PDF]. To nominate yourself or someone else as an Emerging Leader, visit the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects web site.


Mathalia was featured as an Emerging Leader in the 2010 Emerging Leader Showcase [PDF].

Her story highlighted all of her inclusive recreation activities: swim team, violin lessons, high school orchestra and recitals, theater, and her first few volunteer jobs in the community.


As she finished her sophomore year of high school Mathalia's team gathered at the invitation of her mother to discuss what a summer job could look like for her.  Her team consisted of her Developmental Disabilities Case Manager, Bonnie; the Vocational teacher for her junior year, LanAnn; a job coach who had supported her in the community, Sandi; her mom, Jan; and a staff person from the Rural Institute Transition Projects, Ellen.  The school had videotaped her performance on various in-school work experiences and her mom and Ellen had videotaped her performance on her community volunteer jobs. This helped all team members learn about her skills, interests and supports, as well as the conditions that worked best for Mathalia.  She was now 17 years old and most 17-year-olds have summer jobs.  Ideally we wanted something she could walk or take the bus to and a job that would be a good enough match for her to work independently once she was trained.


Mathalia is quite independent if her schedule is consistent or written in a list of familiar tasks.  She works at her own pace and is very precise.  We wanted to avoid tasks where she would be rushed or interrupted within her routine.


Mathalia alphabetizing invoicesMathalia's mom set up an appointment with the Math Department at the University of Montana to talk to them about some of their clerical needs and how Mathalia might be able to make a contribution there.   Mathalia's dad, Karel, is a professor in the Math Department so Jan relied on their connections to get in the door.  Jan shared information about Mathalia's skills and tasks she could do for the department through her visual résumé/portfolio.   A list of tasks that the department needed and Mathalia could perform was created.  The list included alphabetizing student and faculty time cards for payroll, making copies and collating packets, and delivering mail to the Dean's office across campus.  Mathalia is now working one day a week at the Math Department with the support of a paraprofessional.  It is an unpaid vocational experience through her high school at this time.


Another opportunity developed for Mathalia during the same time period. The Transition Projects Director happened to strike up a conversation on a plane ride that led to Mathalia's first paid job.  It began as the typical conversation: "What do you do?"  Ellen shared that she worked with families and youth with disabilities around employment in the community.  Sheena, the owner of Prudential Missoula Properties wanted to know more.  Ellen explained the approach of matching the skills, abilities, and contributions of people with disabilities to the unmet needs of employers.  She explained that many of the youth she knew didn't compete well and thus were oftentimes overlooked for employment in the community.  When Sheena wanted an example, Ellen asked her what tasks she did as the owner that took away from work she could be doing to promote more business and income for Prudential. 


Sheena talked about the property management service Prudential offered that was time consuming and not as profitable for the agency as the sales component.  Property management included making sure the bills for all of the properties were paid on time and then the information entered into the QuickBooks accounting system.  Then Sheena asked Ellen about the students with whom she was working.  Ellen described Mathalia as a young woman who is very active and involved in her community.  Ellen talked about her reading and math skills, her amazing dexterity while playing the violin and making potholders, and her preciseness and drive to create tracking sheets to self-monitor her violin practice.  Ellen explained that we were looking for her first job.  Sheena asked Ellen to call her and set an appointment for Mathalia's mom and Ellen to come in to talk more.


When Jan and Ellen met with Sheena she showed them the process of how to pay the property management bills online.  It involved identifying different information on each of the bills (property name, vendor, amount due, date due); searching for specific property names on the computer; entering the amount due and date due; and adding notations about the service.  The checks to the vendors are then printed out for the owner to sign.  The other piece of the job was to enter the same information into QuickBooks so the property management account was up-to-date and balanced.


Sheena looked over at Ellen and Jan and said, "Stop me if any of this is too hard."  Jan replied, "She can do all of this.  It is structured into steps and basically is matching letters and numbers.  She will just need training and practice about how to find the information on the bill and the computer."  Mathalia is now working two days a week for 2˝ hours a day in addition to going to school, volunteering at the library, swimming and acting in plays.  She rides the bus from school to work and then rides it home.  She received her first paycheck in October and will be receiving raises and reviews along the same time lines as her coworkers.  She still has a job coach with her for part of the work shift but this support will fade as she learns all the steps of paying the property management bills.


What worked about this story was having the vision that Mathalia belonged in her community and could make a contribution to an employer, using connections to introduce the concept of a negotiated job, and being very clear about Mathalia's skills, tasks and conditions needed to be successful in a workplace. 


Jan added that the team was ready and waiting.   Mathalia's visual résumé/portfolio had been produced; team members had generated a list of ideal working conditions needed for Mathalia to be successful; the vision of her being a contributing community member had been created; a broad range of team members had been included; and community connections were being utilized.  Mathalia's skills were also in place. She is active in the community and able to get around independently.  She enjoys work and being productive and exhibits a strong work ethic.


It is an exciting adventure.  All eyes are on Mathalia developing confidence in her tasks and moving away from needing a job coach. Employees at Prudential Missoula Properties enjoy Mathalia's presence and are finding more work for her to do.  In the middle stands Mathalia and she is simply taking it all in stride.  Mathalia will be acting in the Missoula Community Theater's production of "Rapunzel," playing the part of a gremlin.  Her coworkers, Gina and Sheena, want to come and watch her perform, which is even more exciting to Mathalia than the fact that Sheena just handed her her first paycheck.



Mathalia paying property management bills online
Mathalia paying property management bills online




Kim Brown
MT Transition Listserv


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This publication was produced by the University of Montana's

Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects.