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Where Disabled Students Get Ready For Better, More Public Work

Debbie Holmes

At Greenleaf Community Work Habits Program, students watch an animated movie that helps them learn to handle their emotions.

“We’ve been through a lot lately that’s for sure, but we still love our girl. She has great new friends, a great new house. Things couldn’t be better.”

About a half dozen students started the program this fall. It’s geared for developmentally disabled people seeking opportunities outside of a workshop’s controlled environment. 

Under new federal guidelines, workshops for the developmentally disabled must be overhauled by 2019. For more than half a century, these workshops provided jobs and income for the disabled in a controlled environment. 

Today, the goal is to find more engaging work that get disabled workers out in the public. That takes more training - something that Greenleaf Community Work Habits Program is already doing.

Learning Public Work

Ninteen-year-old Aurora Hobden, a recent graduate of Upper Arlington High School, says she knows how emotions can get out of control.

“I’ve had meltdowns, breakdowns, and angry outbursts," Hobden says. "And what did you do then? It would usually blow over and then my parents would intervene and they would talk to me or something, depending on the situation. And then I would get better."

Hobden’s previous jobs included two community service organizations, where she measured ingredients for baked goods, checked food temperatures, packed meals  and swept the floor.

Now she’s learning new skills, including how to talk to co-workers. After up to a year of training, she wants to work in a department store. 

“It’s great," Hobden says about the program. "The lessons are very helpful and I have a lot of lovely, supportive coworkers."

Instructor Jessica Schollenberger says she understands some of the students operated under different expectations in the workshops.

“Most of the group I work with either just are transitioning out of school, or some of them were in other sort of sheltered settings where behavior was acceptable in those places that isn’t acceptable out in the community,” Schollenberger says.

Credit Debbie Holmes

Getting Around

Jennifer Kuntz, founder of Greenleaf Job Training Services, says her mission for the past 21 years has been to help the disabled become independent and self-sufficient. 

“We are working with the individual, with the person and tapping into their current capabilities, finding those strengths," Kuntz says. "What is it that they are able to do, and then we partner up with businesses and we say, how can we help you to hire this person and make it something that is a benefit to the business?"

Students in the program also get outside of the classroom - they practice getting to their job on a city bus and talking with others they encounter.

“We might take a group of participants out on a bus, learning how to ride the bus and get them lost on purpose," Kuntz says. "They’re with a staff member so everything is safe, but we need to learn how to problem solve. It’s like, 'Oh my gosh, we got off at the wrong spot, now what do we do?'"

Ready For New Challenges

Franklin County officials say reports show disabled employees stay on the job with an 80 percent retention rate.

About 1,100 people in the county work in community-based employment settings like hospitals or restaurants. That’s compared to 812 who participate in the more sheltered workshops.

“I’m a really nice person, and also I like this place,” says 20-year-old Demetrius Magwood.

Magwood worked at a grocery store pushing carts. He says now he’s ready to handle more work challenges.     

“Not all the jobs will meet our job skills," Magwood says. "Like sometimes you’ve got to deal with the job, even if somebody is getting on your nerves.  You’ve got to learn to ignore that person."

Jed Morison, superintendent of the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, says while the focus is on jobs outside of workshops, it’s not a "one size fits all" approach.

“You’re still going to need different options depending on people’s individual needs, whether they’re medical needs or behavioral challenges or levels of functioning," Morison says. "But certainly the goal is to try to help get people out into the community wherever possible, wherever realistic."

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.