“He’s been with us for just over eight years and continues to be a great addition to our team. From his wonderful and warm personality to his ever-present smile and friendly ‘hello,’ he fits right in,” Drew Hoselton, president of the Hoselton Auto Mall, said of Chris Brown, a valuable member of the Hoselton team.
Hoselton said stories like Brown’s would not be possible without the assistance of the Heritage Christian Services (HCS) Employment Alliance, which he said has been “a great partner” for the company. Hoselton, who also serves on the HCS Foundation Board, said working with HCS has brought many opportunities to his company.
“(The Employment Alliance) team has worked with our staff to develop a plan for success for Chris — helping to make him a key member of Team Hoselton,” he said. “As part of their development plan, they provided our human resources team with a job coach who spent hours over the course of the year working with us and Chris, which has been instrumental in our joint success.”
The Employment Alliance (EA) at HCS started roughly three decades ago, and over that time has grown from a partnership with a couple of employers to a substantial program that counts more than 300 employers as partners. The EA provides benefits to businesses and the community by matching individuals with developmental disabilities with employment opportunities.
Associate VP Education & Employment Joanie Parker pointed out in an interview that one of the first things people often ask one another — after learning names — is their career or employment. She said the EA is aimed at helping individuals become “active, contributing, taxpaying citizen(s) like you and I.”
“The purpose of the Employment Alliance is to really help people have that opportunity to work, have a sense of identity, pride and belonging, and have an ability to earn an income and become more engaged in their communities,” said Marianne Durrant, director of the EA.
The EA works with a diverse group of people, Durrant said, and the partner businesses are “every bit as diverse.”
“It’s everything that you can imagine,” she said of the establishments the EA partners with. “Small, family-owned businesses to large corporations and chains.”
Parker said the EA started “on a very limited basis” and remained that way for many years, but in the last decade the organization started to focus on supported employment and aligning individuals’ career goals with the needs of businesses.
“And we’ve grown quite a bit in those years,” Parker said, noting the number of business partners has ballooned from two to more than 300 in that timeframe.
Parker said HCS has been able to expand staff as the demand for the EA services have grown in recent years.
“We don’t put a lid on capacity and right now we haven’t had to,” Parker said. “We hire more employment specialists to help us with the work.”
Employment specialists assess individuals’ skills and interests, Parker said, in an effort to match prospective employees with positions that fit both. Durant said an important piece of that assessment is to understand what partner businesses are looking for in an employee.
“We see the businesses as an equal player in this, so we need to fill a business need for the businesses we’re working with,” Durrant said. “So understanding their culture, their expectations, organizational leadership and goals is important for us for us to know when we’re matching and introducing job candidates to them.”
Durrant said the assessment and placement process can differ depending on an individual’s life experience. If someone is ready for work, she said there’s typically an observation portion that might place an individual seeking employment at a local business for a tryout.
“We may interview them and the people that are closest to them to really understand what makes them tick, what would help them be successful and what kind of environment are they most likely to learn and be happy and productive,” Durrant said. “And it could be a combination of factors. It could be assessment and observation, and it could be a short-term period we do this, or it could be more extended for some people as we really get to know more in-depth information about them to find a better fit.”
Durant said, for example, some individuals may not be successful in a crowded or noisy environment, and EA officials seek to match them with a job in which they are likely to succeed.
In addition to helping individuals gain the necessary skills to succeed, Durrant said the EA offers career exploration opportunities to assist prospective workers with understanding job requirements and discovering a career that best fits their skills and interests.
“We really try to get at the heart of who they are and where we are most likely to see success,” Durrant said. “We do have a lot of ability to work with people before they step into employment, because more and more we’re seeing that really leads to a better success rate for people.”
One example of the ways in which HCS helps individuals explore careers and gain experience is an internship program at the Jewish Home of Rochester.
Summer Kogut, a job skills coach based at the Jewish Home of Rochester, oversees a group of interns who are learning a variety of skills at the Jewish Home campus. Kogut said in addition to performing the work entailed by various positions, the interns are learning skills such as communication, policies and procedures, professionalism.
Interns at the Jewish Home campus are participating in a number of different positions, including cooking, dining services, concierge services, maintenance, recreation, laundry and more.
“We’re forever trying to expand and get more internships,” Kogut said, noting “the ultimate goal” of the program is integrated employment, or individuals entering the workforce and working side-by-side with everyone.
There are “a multitude of ways” businesses can partner with the EA that may not necessarily include providing a job to an individual, Durrant said, including providing pre-employment services that help individuals define their career path and explore potential careers.
“There’s great opportunity for businesses to partner with us and talk about what it’s like to work in their business or let someone try out a job in their business with the support of our staff,” Durrant said. “We would welcome conversations with businesses about involvement in a variety of ways.”
Matthew Reitz is a Rochester-area freelance writer.