By Janice

When Sarah was born with Down syndrome 24 years ago, I made a promise to her and to myself that I would do whatever I could to help her achieve her potential. Now as an eager young adult, Sarah is someone who expects to accomplish things. Her tenacity and hard work paid off, and today she works four days a week at Abt Electronics and Appliances in Glenview. Like most people with Down syndrome, Sarah takes pride in her work. She is dependable, capable and responsible when she’s given the right support and work that’s a good fit. Sarah was able to “try out” a variety of work settings and tasks at age 14 when she entered the Northern Suburban Special Education District (NSSED) educational and life skills program. When she graduated from transition at age 22, the NSSED vocational specialist found Sarah a job working 5 days a week at McDonald’s. Unfortunately she lost her job a year later when the restaurant was bought out. I was concerned about how Sarah would fill her days in a meaningful way after being so busy.

As a psychologist in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities, I was fortunate to be developing a program with NSSED and Griffin-Hammis Associates through an investment with the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. So we hired the employment specialist with our agency, Total Link2 Community.  Emily used the principles of customized employment to help Sarah and our family create a position that suited her abilities, her social personality and the ideal conditions that would allow her to work independently in the community. Customized Employment is a person-centered process that uses a set of “best practice” strategies and principles to develop jobs and careers for people with complex support needs. Griffin-Hammis Associates has successfully pioneered Customized Employment in over 200 states across the country. Customized employment is a very comprehensive process that individualizes the job search to maximize success. Customized employment worked beautifully for Sarah because it focuses on building a mutually beneficial relationship for both the jobseeker and the business. The model entails six vital steps -1. Discovery of Personal Genius  2. Capturing Discovery through Profiles  3. Customized, Person-Centered Planning  4. Portfolio Development  5. Job Development and Negotiation and 6. Job Site Analysis, Accommodations and Support

After spending many hours with Sarah both through observation and hands-on discovery of what Griffin-Hammis calls “personal genius,” Emily helped Sarah develop what TL2C calls a “living resume” or portfolio describing her skills, strengths, talents and ideal conditions for employment. From there Emily collaborated with us to develop three broad vocational themes to begin exploring potential places for work. Then Sarah presented her living resume as a PowerPoint presentation at a Community Action Team (CAT). The CAT is a group of key stakeholders dedicated to helping support inclusive employment in the community. The jobseeker invites friends, family and other supporters to participate. One of Sarah’s job coaches, Jill, suggested that Abt might be a great fit for Sarah. She made the connection for Emily and Sarah to join her in a tour of Abt with one of the owners, Billy Abt. Sarah and Billy hit if off from the moment they met one another. According to Jill and Emily, Sarah sold herself by presenting her living resume. The rest is history – Sarah works 2 days a week in the customer service department and the other 2 days a week in the offices, using a computer to sort service orders. The favorite parts of Sarah’s job – getting to wear a headset like Dwight from the show, “The Office,” and helping customers to get their orders.

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