Looking Forward

This time of year is my favorite. It’s a natural time to reflect on the past year, thank those who have supported our mission, and celebrate those who have met their goals. NEBA is privileged to employ 60 very talented and dedicated staff who assisted many new job seekers to become employed this year, and helped many more maintain their jobs despite difficult economic conditions.

This year was particularly challenging due to fiscal uncertainties and natural disasters. Although trying, these did not deter us from meeting our mission: “To enable people with disabilities whose rights and freedoms are most likely denied them to be fully included in community life, primarily through employment.”

Despite the difficult times, NEBA expanded services into Connecticut and became a vendor of the Department of Developmental Services and the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services. NEBA is now assisting 42 individuals to find jobs in their communities, and we plan to increase our capacity to serve more individuals in 2012.

The NEBA Business Development Center (BDC) served 40 individuals this year interested in being self-employed; eight of whom completed their business plan in the past quarter. These new businesses are now off to the implementation phase and one business has already seen the need to hire an additional employee. The BDC also became an affiliated member of the MACDC which is committed to community and economic development and received funding from the People’s United Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

As the economic challenges continue, the tasks and challenges become more urgent for all of us. More than ever we need to work in partnership, recognize that we’re all bound together in a social and economic struggle, and remember that employment needs to be the priority for individuals with disabilities. Although NEBA has always partnered with local businesses, partnering with other non-profits was and will continue to be fundamental to our being able to reach more individuals and strengthen our service delivery. Chapel Haven in Connecticut, FutureWorks Career Center, and the Scibelli Enterprise Center in Massachusetts were new partnerships formed/strengthened this year specifically to increase the number of individuals with disabilities who become employed or self-employed.

We look forward to these ongoing partnerships as well as forming new partnerships that will assist us in serving many more in 2012.

– Jeannine Pavlak, Executive Director, NEBA

About “Ticket to Work”

Several images come to mind when I think of tickets: A multitude of parking tickets left on my windshield; concert tickets for some amazing (and some awful) memories of live music; and baseball tickets for summer nights at the ballpark.

At NEBA, when someone mentions tickets they are usually referring to a program of the Social Security Administration called “Ticket to Work”.  In this program, tickets are sent to individuals with disabilities when they begin receiving SSI or SSDI disability insurance payments. With their ticket, recipients are able to retain the services of a registered employment network (EN) to help them return to work.

An EN is a private organization (can be a for-profit or nonprofit), government agency, or employer that has agreed to work with the Social Security Administration to provide employment services. When a ticket is assigned to NEBA, we meet with the ticket holder to set goals and develop an employment work plan. The plan helps to determine the work timeline, training needs, and income goals and requirements.

Because a disability check can be one of the few constants in an individual’s (or even a family’s) income, the prospect of losing this benefit can be frightening. The Ticket to Work program is designed to reduce this fear by allowing each ticket holder to return to work for a trial work period. During this time, they are able to determine their ability to consistently achieve a monthly income benchmark while still receiving full disability benefits. If they consistently meet the benchmark, they will be able to earn more money and improve their financial stability. If they are unable to consistently meet the minimum income requirements, they are able to retain their disability benefits.

The Ticket to Work program is also beneficial to our economy. When someone in their 20s or 30s returns to work and permanently stops receiving their disability benefit checks, taxpayers save at least $500,000. The government benefits from increased tax revenue, and employers benefit from the expanded pool of qualified candidates.

We’re all very quick to get on the government’s case when they do something wrong, but we should also give credit when the government produces a beneficial program such as Ticket to Work.

Eric Fiedler, NEBA Outreach & Development Coordinator

Economic Equality Through Employment

Equality. A word that has been fought for since the beginning of time. A word that is the subject matter of one of the greatest speeches in the history of the United States, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Some would argue that equality has been achieved, or at the very least has gotten better in the last 50 years of our country. However, there is still much work left to do in our evolving society. Equality will always be strived for, no matter one’s lot in life.

At NEBA, we strive for equal opportunities for our job seekers. We feel that the road to equality for individuals with disabilities is paid employment. Why? Because many of the individuals we serve are people who are in a search for purpose in life, and for their place in society. The common factor in all of this is employment.

Just as your job and my job give us purpose to get up every morning and realize our dreams (or pay our way to our dreams), the same is true for the individuals we serve. Their dream might be to get their own place to live, to buy a car, or to go on a vacation. A job gives our job seekers the kind of freedom and equality that they would never get from a monthly disability check. A job allows the individuals we serve to be part of a setting where they can interact and socialize with society in a way they can’t in sheltered workshops and group-supported employment, which many with disabilities participate in.

The  NEBA mission and vision statement, which I feel perfectly summarizes what we do and why we do it:

To enable people with disabilities, whose rights and freedoms are most likely denied them to be fully included in community life, primarily through employment.

In a way that:

• Incorporates and creates the best practices
• Creates valued typical societal roles
• Offers individualized opportunities
• Does no harm

So that the gifts and talents of all people are appreciated.

– Timothy J Blonsky, Senior Employment Specialist

Connecticut Team

The NEBA Business Development Center and Self-Employment

 

Who might be the next Donald Trump?

For the NEBA Business Development Center (BDC) that person could be any one of the 30-plus entrepreneurs who have completed a business plan through our program.

Since 2007, 83 individuals have explored the possibility of starting a business through the NEBA program. Did they all complete the self-employment path?  No.  But each individual did discover what the right path might be for becoming self-supporting. The 39 individuals that made the commitment to own a business and become self-employed are striving to be self-supporting and self-directed.

How did these individuals become self-employed?

The BDC offers assistance to people with disabilities to establish their own business. The program provides entrepreneurial training from the development of a business concept, the writing of a business plan to assisting, as needed, in the actual implementation of the business.

The program started by serving five individuals with a spectrum of disability challenges, and now serves 51 active participants. Direct service hours have expanded from 50 hours in the first year to 1,122 hours in FY 2010-2011. To date 39 plans have been written.

Program participants come by referral and as “walk-ins”. Most are Social Security beneficiaries using their Ticket to Work benefit. The goal of the BDC program fits perfectly with the goal of the Ticket to Work program; to assist participants in being self-supporting.

Once accepted into the BDC program the participant begins a series of weekly meetings that continue for an average of 60 hours to complete a SCORE-based plan. (SCORE is a program of the Small Business Administration to assist new business owners).

The BDC curriculum develops a participant’s financial literacy based on managing business operating costs, monitoring cash flow and developing business equity. Computer competency, using Word and Excel, is another outcome of the program. Participants work to develop their business idea, complete a business plan and implement their business concept.

The course begins with the development of the business financials. Operating expense information gives the participant an understanding of what it costs to run the business they have in mind. Expense information reveals the product or service price needed to cover costs. Participants develop three years of financials and the narrative to explain the financials.

In the current economic environment self-employment growth from all sectors of the population is a critical component to the revival of the general economy. Ironically, any surge in new business development has historically been during times of economic recession.  This is true for the disabled as well as the non-disabled.

If you know anyone with a disability that is interested in being self-supporting, share this blog. The NEBA website www.nebaworks.com provides information on both supported employment and self-employment.  Both paths lead to being self-supporting.

How can more individuals with disabilities participate in the current economic revival?

Explore the possibility of self-employment through a personal assessment.

Why is being self-supporting a benefit to all?

When the entire community is self-supporting, there is more for everyone.

Colleen M Moynihan,  M Ed,  CLU, CMFC
Director, NEBA Business Development Center

NEBA ≠ Charity

In my tenure at NEBA, I have job developed and networked in communities throughout Connecticut and western Massachusetts. When I network, I meet a vast array of people. My job is (before placing clients in jobs of their own) to meet employers and listen to their needs, learn about their business and determine if a NEBA client can benefit their company. I am asked many questions about what NEBA is, what role it plays, etc. In some cases, a dialogue plays to a point of concern for me and my clientele. It usually goes a bit like this:

Employer: “So, you’re an employment agency? That means I have to pay extra fees to hire your people.”

Me: “Actually, that’s not the case! There are no additional fees to hire our job seekers. We are a non-profit agency working with state agencies to assist in placing qualified applicants.”

Employer: “Oh! You’re a charity. Well, leave some information and I’ll look it over. Thanks for coming in!”

Depending on the circumstances, I may or may not mention that NEBA serves the disabled population. This only enhances the notion that I represent a charity, as if my clients are looking for free money, donations, or some other handout. Of course, this is far from the truth. Still, many who hear the term “non-profit” almost automatically assume the term is interchangeable with “charity.”

NEBA is not a charity. Far from it.

Our designation as a 501(c)(3) non-profit simply means that any money we take in for providing services must be allocated towards services, staff, or anything else that helps us place individuals in jobs. Like any non-profit, we hold fundraisers to help enhance our services and award-winning best practices, as well as to bring awareness to our mission and goal. Our goal is to place people in real jobs for real pay. We do not provide handouts to those we support, but rather education, training and accommodations so they can be productive, taxpaying citizens in their communities.

Our clients have skills that would benefit businesses with needs to match, just like any other employment agency. Basically, without the word “disability” in our repertoire, our services are just like the for-profit agencies, save for the no-fee placement, coaching and education we provide to employers. Retention, turnover and employee efficiency are not foreign terms to us. Our employment consultants are well-versed in hiring practices, workplace accommodations, tax credit information and much more. Clients of NEBA are people with skills to showcase and who want to work where they are valued equally with other employees. Our clients are qualified, reliable candidates who look forward to the opportunity to grow with businesses that value their contributions. NEBA may be associated with “Disability, A to Z,” but we are also seen by employers of our clientele as “Employment, Hello to Hire and beyond.”

By hiring an individual served by NEBA, employers contribute to economic development via lowered state and federal subsidies and increased tax revenue. Many businesses are eligible for tax credits for hiring our clients. Our consultants work hard to ensure each job seeker is matched to the career path they most desire and that matches their skills, so that relationships with employers are naturally and mutually beneficial. Surely, the employee a company may hire is not a donation or handout, but a contributor to the company, community, and society…just like any other employee.

In NEBA’s 28+ years of existence, it and its staff have been called pioneers, innovative thinkers, advocates, economic developers, etc. Call us any of those things. Call us the agency that cares. Call us a run-of-the-mill employment agency if you wish.

Just don’t call us a charity.

-Ryan Aldrich

Senior Employment Consultant