February 2021
In this issue:
  • National Perspective
  • Employment First Missouri Updates
  • Provider Spotlight
  • In Case You Missed It
  • Fast Fact
  • Contact Us
Welcome to the Newsletter!
Welcome to the first issue of the quarterly Employment First Missouri newsletter. In each newsletter, we will provide the latest updates on the activities of Employment First Missouri to advance employment of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We will also provide news on national efforts and resources.

It is both an exciting and challenging time for the field of employment for people with disabilities. It is exciting in terms of the ongoing Employment First movement here in Missouri and nationally, with states and service providers prioritizing employment of people with significant disabilities in ways that we have not previously seen. It is challenging as we all deal with the impact of the current pandemic on services and supports for people with disabilities, as well as our own professional and personal lives.

The staff at Employment First Missouri, along with their colleagues at the Institute for Community Inclusion, have done extensive resource development to support individuals and service providers during the pandemic. You can find these resources of the ICI COVID-19 Resource Page.

As we slowly emerge from this challenging and very sad time for so many Americans, we should also consider the long-term implications of the lessons we have learned in terms of employment supports. One key lesson we have learned is the ability to provide services in new and different ways, including the use of remote technology. We have also learned a lot about how individuals with disabilities are able to adapt to new and different circumstances, including the ability to use technology in ways that we previously may have not thought possible. Instead of simply going back to the “way things were”, we need to consider how we can apply what we have learned to better support individuals in achieving employment success. At Employment First Missouri, we will be taking a close look at these issues, and we will work with you to apply these lessons learned.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me, or to our Missouri-based staff (Jessi Keenoy – jessica.keenoy@umb.edu or Nick Holz – nicholas.holz@umb.edu) at any time if we can assist you or your organization through our training and technical assistance services.
David Hoff, Project Director
David Hoff
Project Director
Employment First Missouri Updates
Check out the new Employment First Missouri website!
Employment First Missouri has launched a new website! Visit the site for news about upcoming events, a comprehensive resource library, and to learn more about how you can get involved with Employment First Missouri.
Employment First Missouri Learning Community
Employment First Missouri wants to thank everyone who attended our recent Community of Practice web sessions. A special thank you goes out to the presenters who shared their time and expertise. We provided satisfaction surveys after each session, and 90% of respondents agreed that the information shared in the sessions will be useful to them in their current roles.

We have archived these sessions on the Employment First Missouri Basecamp community. If you would like to be added to the online learning community to access archived sessions, please send an email request to Jessica Keenoy at Jessica.keenoy@umb.edu.

Here are archived recordings for some of the most popular sessions:
September 2020: Community Life Engagement
Presenter: Jennifer Sulewksi, ICI

Attendees learned about community life engagement (CLE) and its relationship to employment. The session covered why community life engagement is more important now than ever, and provided an overview of the four guideposts for CLE. Visit the Basecamp community site to access this CLE session.
October 2020: Schedule A Hiring
Presenters: Larry Brady and Eldon Fletcher, Department of Veteran Affairs, Vocational Rehabilitation

Participants learned how Schedule A Hiring Authority can provide employment opportunities for job seekers with disabilities, how to find such opportunities, and what documentation is needed for job seekers to qualify. Visit the Basecamp community site to access this Schedule A Hiring session.
November 2020: Section 503: Federal Contractor Hiring Initiatives
Presenter: David Hoff, ICI

This session covered federal contractor hiring initiatives, websites that can be used to find contractors, and strategies for employment providers to develop mutually beneficial relationships with federal contractors. Visit the Basecamp community site to access this Federal Contractor Hiring Initiatives session.
December 2020: Creating a Business Advisory Council
With special guest Peter Boardman, The Frank Olean Center Inc.

Participants discussed the benefits and challenges of creating an active and engaged Business Advisory Council. Panelists shared strategies to increase council engagement and to overcome barriers. Visit the Basecamp community website to access this session on Creating a Business Advisory Council.
Provider Spotlight: Empac Employment Resources
Colleen Himmelberg Sara Gratzer Tammy Adams Lauren Martin Taylor Schaefer Empac Logo
Pictured from left to right: Colleen Himmelberg, Sara Gratzer, Tammy Adams, Lauren Martin, and Taylor Schaefer.
Employment First Missouri had the pleasure of speaking with Colleen Himmelberg, Executive Director and Sara Gratzer, Director of Employment Services at Empac Employment Resources. As an organization, Empac has been providing community based employment services since 2012 and serves the following counties: Franklin, Sullivan, Gasconade, Phelps, Crawford, Washington, and Warren.
What makes Empac unique?
Empac values focusing first on the individual receiving services. This focus takes priority over billing and funding concerns. As a team, we are always looking for ways to grow, improve services, and strive to “go above and beyond” in the delivery of employment services. The employment team members are from the area that we serve and we are very committed to helping our local community. We continuously evaluate community needs and add services to ensure that we are providing a full service continuum. We strive to reduce the sizes of the cracks through which people may fall.
How has Empac maintained a focus on employment services during the pandemic?
We have been able to continue providing employment services during the pandemic by being flexible and willing to completely change the way we were doing things. Our team had to adapt and make use of technology. Also, staff had to be very flexible with scheduling. We attended webinars to get new ideas and learn what other organizations were doing during this time.
Empac considered ourselves an essential business. Employment and hiring continued, and our area employers have been experiencing staffing shortages. As a team, Empac staff modeled that we could continue working while staying safe.
Tell us about a program or service that you are proud to provide.
Empac really believes in the importance of first work experiences. We offer Youth Transition Services and a Summer Camp on a yearly basis, which provides about 25-30 individuals with work experience and a positive first encounter with employment. These programs have been developed through a great deal of collaboration and coordination with Vocational Rehabilitation, our local SB 40 Board, Service Coordinators, and local schools. As a result, we have developed strong relationships.
What are your goals for Empac in the coming year?
Empac would like to enhance the success rate of individuals by effectively braiding services between Vocational Rehabilitation and DMH waiver services. Additionally, we would like to work more collaboratively with other community partners. Learning more about other services available and building relationships will help us flow individuals to those services. Additionally, Empac is launching a new Autism program and would like to see these services take off and referrals grow for this program. 
What is some advice you would share with an agency that is just getting started?
Collaborate with others. Every time we started a new program, we sought out others who were doing something similar to find out what they were doing. Focus on the individual through the discovery process. Keep your eye on the milestones. Milestones are not just payment points, but each success along the way. There are lots of ups and downs. Celebrate the successes!
In Case you Missed It:
Institute for Community Inclusion
Employment and Employment Supports: A Guide to Ensuring Informed Choice for Individuals with Disabilities: This brief provides guidance on how to ensure individuals with disabilities make decisions about employment in a way that puts them at the center of the decision-making process, with the necessary information to make a choice about the type of job and career they would like to pursue.
Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities
Employment in Action – A Missouri Conversation
In celebration of October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we spotlighted employment success stories in a panel discussion that included individuals sharing their journey, support systems who built the opportunity, and model employers who valued inclusive workplaces. The webinar provided an opportunity to learn best case strategies to support individuals with achieving their employment outcomes. 
The recording, transcript and powerpoint are now available.
Return To Work & Community Activities Planning Tool
Are you working with individuals who are grappling with decisions about how to engage in work and community activities during the pandemic? The Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities has launched a new tool to assist with information gathering and decision making. 

National Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE)
National APSE recently hosted a Facebook Live Session focused on race and Employment First. If Not Us: Why We Need to Talk About Race, featured a panel discussion with Amber Boydston, Chisa O'Quinn, and National APSE Board member, Wes Anderson. Access the full panel discussion on Facebook.
Job Accommodations Network
Job Accommodation Network (JAN) released the updated "Accommodation and Compliance: Low Cost, High Impact." Check it out to learn more about direct and indirect benefits employers report experiencing as a result of providing accommodations.
Fast Fact:
magnifying glass enlarging a question mark
National Core Indicators found that in Missouri, 44% of adults with intellectual disabilities surveyed indicated that they would like to work in the community. Of those surveyed, only 9% reported having community based employment.
Contact Us:
business cards with Employment First Missouri website and logo
The Employment First Missouri initiative is a collaborative between the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities.  
Technical assistance, training, and mentoring are available at no cost for current and potential employment service providers. Employment First Missouri provides a customized approach to assess organizational needs and offer implementation strategies focused on evidence based best practices to get real results.
If you would like to learn more about how Employment First Missouri could be of benefit to your organization, complete this brief inquiry form and a team member will contact you.
Institute for Community Inclusion | 617-287-4300 (voice) | ici@umb.edu | https://employmentfirstmo.org/

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