Navigating the challenges of finding and starting a job or getting an education can be difficult under any circumstances, but especially so during a pandemic. Over the past year, Wyandot Center’s Supported Employment team has stepped up to help individuals work through these unique circumstances.
“A lot of the individuals I work with were a little bit scared to get out into the community in the height of the pandemic,” says Alexandria Dwight, vocational consultant. “I did a lot of supportive counseling and tried to keep people motivated and encouraged. I think it helped for them to have someone who is on their side and who would hear them out when they were having those thoughts and feelings.”
In 2020, the Supported Employment team served 220 individuals. But the work they do goes far beyond just helping someone find a job. The team helps with resume development and mock interviews and also provides support before, during and after job placement. They also help individuals connect with needed resources to finish their high school diploma, get their GED and enroll in college.
“We help them advocate for themselves,” says Zuleica Gerardo, vocational consultant.
The Supported Employment team doesn’t just work with individuals seeking job or education opportunities. The team also spends a lot of time establishing and nurturing relationships with employers across Wyandotte County. They take the time to learn about a company’s hiring processes and what they’re looking for and then share that information with clients.
The team says that job placements didn’t slow down all that much, even during the height of the pandemic. While some sectors saw a slow-down in hiring, other jobs began opening up more frequently, including janitorial positions. The team also helped other clients learn the ins and outs of Zoom so they could apply for positions that allowed for remote work.
Even after a client begins working, Supported Employment team members continue to support that individual in whatever way is needed. This sometimes includes helping to coordinate workplace accommodations.
“Accommodations vary from client to client. And we might not find out that they need accommodations until they’ve been in the job for a couple of months,” says Mary Burdette, vocational consultant. “We can help talk to the employer, negotiate work hours and discuss possible transportation challenges.”
If a client decides that a job isn’t the right fit for them, the Supported Employment team sticks with them.
“It’s a learning experience for them,” says Burdette. “A lot of my clients will say ‘I didn’t want to tell you and disappoint you.’ I just tell them that it’s okay and this is what I do. I let them know we’re going to find something that’s going to click for them.”
The vocational consultants on the Supported Employment team say they enjoy hearing how excited their clients are when they do find the right job.
“My clients like to talk faster because they have so much to tell me,” says Gerardo. “They talk about their new friendships and co-workers. They just feel more hopeful.”
“It validates what I do,” Burdette adds. “Sometimes I get more excited than they do.”