Supported Employment Offers A Working Model

Published 4:28 pm Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's a middle of nowhere sort of office on a stretch of U.S. Route 460 east of Rice.

The Crossroads facility, with a collection of plastic drums out back, is a place of action, though it might be hard for those whizzing down the highway to pause and take notice. It is a center, however, of a supported employment program that tackles a range of jobs.

Grass cutting.

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Mobile car detailing.

Janitorial services.

Leaf raking.

Floor stripping and waxing.


Snow removal.

Manufacturing birdhouses and bat houses.

The list is virtually a limitless one. Think up a job that workers can do and Diana Messer, Habilitation Services Manager, looks for ways to get it done-sometimes even mixing and matching workers from crews.

The program offers job training and work for clients with disabilities as well as a service. (Workers are referred to the Crossroads program by the Department of Rehabilitation Services, although they are also sent by school systems or by case managers.) While the numbers somewhat fluctuate, as of The Herald's visit, there were 43 program participants (though other Crossroads day support programs have a support employment component).

The original program years ago involved a job coach who would go with clients to the workplace and train them one-on-one.

“That was the original intent and then it just started growing that…we suddenly started getting more referrals in for people…to be trained for employment and to actually be employed and then that's when we started saying, 'Well, what else can you do?'” reflected Crossroads Executive Director Will Rogers.

It has grown from the job coaching days.

“I wrote the grant…for DRS to do…parking lot maintenance and…I don't think we ever did parking lot maintenance,” Ms. Messer reflected. “We got all the equipment to do it and somebody said 'Well, could you cut my grass?'”

She agreed, borrowing lawn mowers from other programs to start with and opted to add janitorial services, offering a variety of work opportunities and not putting all the eggs in one basket.

The first cleaning crew started out with only two. Now they offer daytime and evening crews.

Workers are appreciative of the flexibility and the support provided to them, Director of Intellectual Disabilities and DAS Support Deb Smith cites, where they would not necessarily have it or be as successful in traditional employment.

They take pride in their work and are possessive in their equipment, even on one occasion when the executive director asked for it, but was turned down.

“…If they operate a single piece of equipment and somebody else wants to borrow it, they tend not to want them to do that, or they have to instruct them,” Ms. Smith said.

When someone feels ownership, they tend to take better care.

Workers sharpen blades, take care of the equipment, do their own maintenance, overhaul equipment, and enjoy paydays.

Attendance is good.

“…I have people who, like, don't miss a day all year long. I mean, never miss a day of coming to work or want to come after their doctor appointment. They don't want to stay out all day,” Ms. Messer said.

And they never call in sick at the last minute, she also stated. If they're going to be off, they let it be known a week ahead of time.

“…It's one of the most intrinsic human qualities…that people want to work and they want to get paid for their work,” Rogers said.

They are evaluated and even get pay increases for merit.

“They tend to create their own niche. They find what they're good at and make sure that we recognize it,” Ms. Smith said.

Of course, there are still two job coaches (who go on site and help a worker learn their job and adjust) and six crew chiefs (those without disabilities) that oversee the work.

“They typically find us,” Ms. Smith says, when asked about job opportunities. “They've heard so much about us in the community and we're very fortunate to have a very good reputation in the community and they will contact us.”

A lot of the cleaning jobs, Ms. Messer cites, come that way. (Among those they provide services for is the State Police headquarters in Buckingham.)

“I think we're very competitive price-wise,” Ms. Messer said. “I think we're right in there.”

Rogers noted, “This program is totally self-sufficient. We either get Medicaid revenue, DRS revenue or we get the revenue from the jobs that we do.”

There are three lawn crews, one of which tackles about half Longwood University's campus (outer campus), according to Ms. Messer. The other crews have about 86 residential contracts and 10-12 churches.

Their commercial heavy cleaning operation was recognized as the employer of the year for the Department of Rehabilitative Services locally.

The mobile auto detailing business was put into operation with grant funds from the economic stimulus from Virginia Rehabilitative Services and has been in operation about a year. Among its clients is Crossroads.

Basically, Ms. Messer cited, put five people to work. They bring car washing and detailing service to the customer.

“…We don't say that we have a disability…We try not to ever use that…We do really good work and we're extremely dependable,” Ms. Messer said.

Workers all receive at least minimum wage and, after they have worked at least 1,000 hours, they can receive retirement.

Ms. Messer is CARF accredited, which includes a thorough evaluation on a multitude of areas. It's a must-do, however, if one wishes to be a vendor for the Department of Rehabilitative Services.

But there is more than just work that goes on with this program. Crossroads also offers some social opportunities-offering opportunities for participants to fish, attend a harvest festival, share in a Thanksgiving meal or attend the Valentine's Day dance.

“…We try to provide them with an opportunity to socialize,” Ms. Smith said.

Still, this wayside exudes work. As for those pickle barrels out back-Ms. Messer said they have an agreement with Clean Virginia Waters. They order pickle barrels that come by truckloads. They are washed and cleaned up and sometimes converted to rain barrels with folks coming from all over the state to pick them up.

At any given time, she estimated, they probably have 1,200 barrels.

(Those looking interested in what supportive employment services provides can contact 434-392-1403.)