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Assistant superintendent of the Central York School District speaks about PennWorks, a workforce initiative that will help individuals with disabilities gain transferable skill sets. (Video by Lindsay VanAsdalan)

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PennWorks wants to "flip the paradigm" of how individuals with disabilities are employed.

For the first time in York County, their skill sets will be transferable across different workplaces.

Abby Yingling, of management consulting firm XtraGlobex Inc., said that fact is what sets the program apart.

"(It's) not like you have to work one place for the rest of your life," she said.

As it is now, if someone with a disability was hired to work at a Holiday Inn, for example, that person would be confined to working at that hotel, she explained. Transferring to another hotel wouldn't be an option.

Developed by PennCares Support Services, formerly United Cerebral Palsy of South Central PA, the PennWorks workforce development initiative creates curriculum for youths and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities so they can earn industry-recognized credentials that are portable.

Community partners Central York School District, Lincoln Intermediate Unit No. 12, the York County Economic Alliance, Spring Grove Area School District, XtraGlobex Inc. and the Center for Independent Living Opportunities are collaborating on the initiative.

The initiative: PennCares has been serving people with disabilities for more than 50 years.

Executive Director Michael Wagner said that in looking for new ways to serve the community, the organization began to focus on the transition from youth to adulthood.

"One thing we all have in common," Wagner said, is seeing a lot of help-wanted signs on the street. 

Now, individuals with disabilities will have the same opportunity to make choices in their employment as their able peers.

The initiative will be available for York County public school students 14 and older and adult alumni of the public education system.

PennWorks is collaborating with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to come up with state-recognized certificates for different skill sets, Wagner said.

Pilot: A soft pilot with four students and their families rolled out in Central York School District the week of Jan. 22, with a full 15-month pilot in Central York and Spring Grove Area school districts starting in April, according to a news release.

"We're proud of our diversity statement, and this program connects directly to that statement," said Michelle Ludwig, special education supervisor in Spring Grove Area School District.

"We're honored to be a partner," said district Superintendent David Renaut, because the program "reaches out to young folks at a critical point in their lives."

The Center for Independent Living Opportunities will provide the extended pilot to adults. 

PennCares is providing fixed-cost funding for the initiative, while working with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services to refine the program.

Lincoln Intermediate Unit No. 12 will take the lead on converting curriculum to nationally recognized certification standards, and the YCEA will help identify local employers.

Wagner said it's something he hopes they will be able to replicate throughout other counties so participants will be able to carry their skills wherever they may decide to go.

Eric Menzer, president of the York Revolution, hosted a news conference for PennWorks at PeoplesBank Park on Thursday, Jan. 25. 

Because the 12-year-old ballpark is relatively new, Menzer said he was fortunate enough to have a facility that was made more accessible to those with disabilities.

He said he makes an effort to employ individuals with disabilities.

"One of our goals is to be one of the most welcome places in York County," he said, and to do that, "our patrons have to be able to see people with whom they identify."

"It's not just altruistic," he said. "It really makes economic sense."

The initiative is also supported by state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, who formerly worked toward similar goals at Bell Socialization Services and last month helped pass House Bill 1641, which helps prioritize employment for people with disabilities in state government.

A representative said on her behalf, "We know there are many challenges: lack of experience, lack of access to certification, lack of financial independence" for people with disabilities, but she recognizes the positive contributions of the community and said the initiative is a step in the right direction.

 

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