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Penn-Mar changes from 'sheltered workshops' to 'competitive' jobs

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
  • Penn-Mar staff recently told a handful of York County business owners they want to raise the bar from their current 90 employed by 20 more.
  • The new employment model for people with disabilities is called "competitive customized employment," where people with disabilities earn a competitive wage.

Every Friday, 51-year-old David Reed gets paid. He works at Sample Express Inc. in Manchester Township for four hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

He landed the job one year ago through Penn-Mar Human Services, a nonprofit that provides jobs and life-skills training to people with disabilities in southern York County and northern Maryland. It also offers housing for those who cannot live on their own.

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A decision seven years ago changed how Reed and others with special needs or disabilities are hired, Penn-Mar officials said. The model changed from "sheltered workshops" to "competitive, customized employment." 

Manager Marty Keagy talks with employee David Reed, left, who was packaging roofing samples at Sample Express in Manchester Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Reed, who has special needs, was placed at the job through Penn-Mar Human Services. Bill Kalina photo

Exclusion to Inclusion: Interested individuals such as Reed who want to work are no longer secluded, said Kathy Rogers, Penn-Mar's chief development officer and executive director of the Penn-Mar Foundation Board. Her nonprofit's goal is to increase its currently matched 90 employees by 20 more. 

Transitioning to competitive, customized employment, she said, was a "big deal" and "very different than a job off the shelf."

New Approach: Penn-Mar employees now meet face-to-face with company leaders to learn about their needs, instead of automatically placing special-needs employees in a role that excludes them from social interaction.

Part of the new method is to take an individual through a four- to six-week discovery and exploration process, which identifies each job-seeker's skills, preferences and natural talents, according to Penn-Mar.  

Part of the problem-solving allows business owners to "free up another person to do something else that they should be doing," Rogers said.

Employees also are paid a competitive wage, she added. 

Kathy Rogers is Penn-Mar’s Chief Development Officer and Executive Director of the Penn-Mar Foundation Board. Submitted/photo

Penn-Mar matches employees to industries that range from automotive to food service to manufacturing to sports maintenance. No longer are they hired under a manufacturing contract in which they only make widgets, she said. 

York Businesses: "It's not charity," York Revolution President Eric Menzer emphasized. "It fills jobs that we need filled."

Menzer explained the new way of doing things also is not about "making up jobs." 

"It's more about being open-minded," he said. 

The York Revolution has worked with Penn-Mar for seven seasons. The organization's professionalism when "screening and training individuals" is a class act, Menzer said.  

Brendan Beazley pieces together roofing samples at Sample Express in Manchester Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. The special needs employee was placed at the job through Penn-Mar Human Services. Bill Kalina photo

"If you're going to advocate for people, how can you do that if you're sheltering them?" Menzer asked. 

In general, his organization has had personnel issues regardless of having a disability or not, he said. But, when he works with Penn-Mar, and it's a person with a disability, he said, "they've taken care of issues immediately."

"They don't put somebody in a situation where you're set up to fail," Menzer said.  

Personal relationships: Reed has been working at Sample Express for more than a year. He and his boss Marty Keagy, operations manager, banter back and forth about Reed's work performance. 

"He always checks on me," Reed said. "He's a nice man. He's also making sure I'm busy. I laugh at Marty. I can talk when I'm working, as long as I'm working." 

Keagy said he's always respected people with special needs and disabilities. He said he appreciates them because they want to do the same things the other guys do. 

"They don't miss a day," Keagy said. "I don't look at them differently, I look at them just like anyone else." 

Keagy explained that Reed and 39-year-old Brendan Beazley work on packaging colored shingle samples. Those boxes are then shipped to Lowe's stores all along the East Coast for consumers to chose from. 

"That's where David and these guys have been a real help," he said, adding Sample Express's business has been growing.  

David Reed packages roofing samples at Sample Express in Manchester Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Reed, who has special needs, was placed at the job through Penn-Mar Human Services. Bill Kalina photo

Beazley is nonverbal. When something is not to his liking, Penn-Mar career counselor Tricia Zeltwanger said, he stops working or makes sure his arms are at his sides. 

That's the cue for Reed to know to support him, Zeltwanger said. 

"Our whole process is matching job skills with a task at a business," she said. "We have found that here. He's happy. He enjoys doing it. I knew what Brendan needed. I know he's happy, because he comes in and goes to work. If he didn't like it, he'd just stop doing it."