Avalon’s Supported Employment ProgramBy: Avalon Housing
Avalon began our Supported Employment program on February 1, 2017. Although Avalon has a long-standing commitment to hiring our tenants when we can, SAMHSA grant funding has enabled us to formally create a program that helps our population achieve greater self-determination and lasting stability. SAMHSA, or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.
SAMHSA describes Supported Employment as a specific approach to vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities. Supported Employment helps people obtain competitive work in the community while providing supports to ensure their success in the workplace. The philosophy of Supported Employment is that everyone has skills and abilities they bring to a job, and with the right supports, they will find an environment that highlights their strengths.
For folks who may be struggling with substance use disorders or other health–related challenges, obtaining and maintaining work is not a result of treatment, but rather an integral part of treatment and recovery. According to CSH (Corporation for Supportive Housing), Supported Employment not only increases tenants’ sense of dignity, self-respect and possibility, it also gives them the resources to help pay for housing and other life necessities. For employers, a Supported Employment workforce can offer a source of productive workers and increased productivity.
Simply put, the health of our communities and economies rely on people working and attending to their wellbeing.
As expected, we’ve had an enthusiastic response from our Avalon community! Our information sessions were well attended, and several staff referred clients to the program. Our Supported Employment Coordinator, Justin Williams, works with each client to complete an assessment, benefits counseling and work plan that builds on the client’s skills and experiences. Justin then helps clients explore or find employment opportunities that fit their needs, skills and hopes for the future.
For some folks, that may mean working for Avalon, as we committed to hiring a number of participants over the life of this grant. In-house Supported Employment has many benefits for our community members. We have the flexibility to act immediately when someone says they are ready to work and provide ongoing support and coaching by a trusted counselor and peers. We can also help the client maintain a focus on recovery and stability as they re-enter the workforce.
Avalon is committed to fostering partnerships with local area businesses to provide employment opportunities that consider the unique skills and challenges of our community members. Justin works with clients to prepare them for operating in a competitive employment market through workshops, training, individual supports and coordination with other Avalon team members such as Support Coordinators and Peer Support Specialists.
We’re currently serving 18 people through our Supported Employment program, and 12 have sought employment or are actively interviewing! This includes six participants that we’ve hired here at Avalon. These folks will assist with maintenance, chore supports, group transportation, and community meals, and we’re so grateful to have them on board!
As our new Transportation Specialist, Bill, says: “Supported Employment gives me hope. I want to work and didn’t know how to get started. Avalon gave me a chance and now I believe that it is possible and hopefully I will be able to work full time again in the future. The people are great and I love my new job!”
As our new Community Meal Specialist, Mary, notes: “I’m super grateful for this opportunity to have something to do. It really has made a difference in my self-esteem. Justin is awesome and Ryan is great too. I really like that they have been understanding and work with me through things.”
Participants who are not yet employed are taking concrete steps to recognize and address their challenges and move forward. Overall, our Supported Employment participants are making progress with their physical and mental health concerns. We’re also seeing improved outcomes with participants’ substance use disorders.