Client Profile: Lavek N.

Lavek was born and raised in the Forest Park section of Springfield, Mass. At the age of 23 he moved to Texas for a teaching position, and he returned to Springfield four years later to take a special education position in a self-contained behavior classroom. Lacking strong staff support, Lavek developed his own strategies to help students curb negative behaviors and focus on their positive traits. “Within the education system, I found that I was able to work effectively with behaviorally challenged students,” he said.

When other teachers noticed Lavek’s success, they sent him their behaviorally-challenged students. Using techniques based on respect, trust, and positive feedback, Lavek continued to see positive changes in the students he worked with. His approach worked in a variety of settings, until he took a position in Central Massachusetts where negative discipline was encouraged. “I found it difficult to work under those conditions, and that’s when I realized I could better help students if I started my own business.”

The mission of Lavek’s new business venture was to encourage educators to show respect for their students, build their trust, and steadily achieve positive change. “I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it,” he said. Lavek struggled for years, trying to get his business going, and when he arrived at the NEBA Business Development Center (BDC) his confidence was shaken. “I came in defeated,” he said. He credits the Center and its director, Colleen Moynihan, with providing the mentoring and encouragement he needed to complete his business plan and successfully launch his business, “Knowledge is Power”.

With the BDC’s guidance and support, Knowledge is Power went from a single focus to offering multiple services, including anti-bullying workshops, one-on-one teacher and student consultations, and comprehensive work with failing schools in Western Mass. In addition to operating his business, Lavek continues to practice what he preaches by teaching a class of behaviorally-challenged high school students in Springfield. “Focusing on unity and respect helps to create a more positive learning environment,” he said.  

For more information about Knowledge is Power, e-mail lavek@knowledgeispowergroup.com or visit www.knowledgeispowergroup.com.

– Eric Fiedler, Outreach & Development Coordinator

Advertisements

Navigating the Maze of Social Security

Most people never want to be in a situation where they must rely on Social Security benefits to make ends meet. However, these benefits provide an essential safety net when an individual is faced with a disability or other significant barrier to work.

When a Social Security disability beneficiary determines that they are able to return to work, they are often unsure of how much work they will be able to perform and how their income will affect their benefit. Social Security is such a complex program, with so many moving parts, scenario contingencies, and rules within rules that it is nearly impossible to comprehend.

Because of the complexity of Social Security, and because each benefit situation is unique, NEBA relies on professionals who have gained an extremely thorough understanding of the program to meet with beneficiaries and their families. These benefits counselors work for programs called Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (WIPA) and Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS), which also provides legal services for beneficiaries.

Benefits counselors are absolutely essential in helping beneficiaries and their families understand the rules, risks and rewards involved with going back to work. In almost every case, beneficiaries emerge from their consultations with a thorough understanding of their benefit situation and are much more confident to attempt working again to the best of their ability.

Unfortunately, funding for the WIPA and PABSS programs is now in jeopardy. Congress has failed to re-authorize the WIPA and PABSS programs, which are slated to be defunded as of June 30, 2012. We know that the WIPA and PABSS programs are effective in empowering individuals with disabilities with the knowledge they need to navigate the Social Security maze and confidently return to the workforce. Many of these workers do remain employed, gradually reducing or eliminating their need for government benefits while generating income tax revenue.

For more information about the WIPA and PABSS programs and the efforts to save them, please visit the National Employment Network Association.

What Does “Employment First” Mean?

In 2009 and 2010, Connecticut and Massachusetts joined several other states across the country in adopting an “Employment First” policy. This policy establishes that for adults with disabilities, integrated, individual employment is the preferred service option and optimal outcome. NEBA is a strong supporter of this policy, and we have been achieving many of its goals since our inception.

In Massachusetts, the stated goals of Employment First are as follows:

    •  Achieve Integrated Individual Employment. Integrated employment has always been the focus of NEBA’s service model.
    • Offer Comprehensive Self-Employment Support Services: NEBA’s Business Development Center, one of the most extensive self-employment programs for individuals with disabilities in the country, enables individuals who are serious about starting their own businesses to write a business plan and receive ongoing support for up to three years.
    • Achieve Employment Based on Individual Preferences and Needs: NEBA’s individualized approach helps the individuals we serve find and remain in the job they desire. If the individual lacks a core competency that is required for the position they want, NEBA’s job skills training program helps them build their necessary skills.
    • Place an Emphasis on Natural Supports: NEBA works with employers to identify natural supports that will enable the individual to successfully complete their job duties.
    • Maximize Work Hours: NEBA believes that the optimal employment status should be one where individuals are working the maximum number of hours they are capable of working.
    • Use Community Settings for Non-Work Hours: In additional to employment services, NEBA works with a variety of community centers to provide opportunities for volunteerism and other activities that can result in greater inclusion in community life.

Implementing these goals results in measurable increases in employment of individuals with disabilities within the general workforce who are earning minimum wage or higher with benefits. NEBA is currently working with our legislature, employers, and community partners so that we can all more effectively make the goals of the Employment First policy a reality.

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

%d bloggers like this: