October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which celebrates the positive contributions of workers with disabilities and inclusive employment policies and practices. Keshet’s adult day program, GADOL, works to provide meaningful days for our adults, with a focus on employment and vocational training. Following the rise of unemployment due to the pandemic, it is more crucial than ever that we come together to develop new and innovative ideas for job training. As an organization, and with the generous support of the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation and Walder Foundation, we’ve responded to those challenges head-on, resulting in more opportunities for our adults to grow their skills and find meaningful employment opportunities. We are proud of the work that our team members do to make a difference in the community and those who collaborate with us to make that happen.
Part of Keshet’s mission is to create a community of belonging where people of all abilities work together. To accomplish this, we have had to change our perspective of what work is and how to best prepare people for the job market since the pandemic. This has led to a renewed focus on vocational skill development, increasing opportunities for GADOL team members to volunteer in the community, and identifying new job placements.
Today, each GADOL team member spends at least 3.5 hours each week in vocational or employment activities under the guidance of GADOL’s Vocational Coordinator, Ellie Landau. GADOL participants are divided into three groups–those with jobs, those looking for jobs and those who are just beginning the process–and participate in different activities and workshops that meet their specific interests and goals. This focus on employment has led to so many accomplishments:
- A New Vocational Lab: A room at GADOL has been transformed into a vocational training lab. This space includes vocational task boxes, computers, resources, a shredding station and a place to do job training activities and projects.
- Personalized Vocational Groups: For those who want more training, team members can opt into different prevocational groups that suit their individual interests and help them learn valuable skills for different areas of the workforce. Among these groups include Food Preparation, Inventory Management and Office Skills.
- Travel Training: Two of our adults who work at a beverage distributor in Chicago had been previously relying on a staff member or volunteer for transportation to and from work. Over the last few months these participants learned travel safety and how to properly take the Metra. They now successfully take the train twice a week to get to work and are grateful for the ways that it’s allowed them to become more independent.
- New Community Partnerships: To help get more of our participants out and working, we’ve recently partnered with Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit that creates handcrafted items from international artisans. This organization is almost entirely run by volunteers and one of our team members is now one of them. She enjoys going to work and what she does to make a difference in the community.
During NDEAM, we are thrilled to celebrate the many wins of our adults developing the necessary skills to acquire and maintain jobs. With the help of these two generous grants, our vocational training program at GADOL has been able to grow tremendously over the last year, and seeing the ways that our team members have succeeded only validated that further. But, even with so many great things happening, there is a long way to go to reach our goal of having employment for everyone who wants a job. We are working on new initiatives and partnerships that will further vocational education and job placements at Keshet. This is a time when community is truly everything; together we can foster a community that opens its doors to the talents of a workforce that represents all people in our community.
Special thanks to Ellie Landau, Keshet’s Vocational Coordinator, for her contributions to this blog. If you know of a local employer who has open positions that Keshet can fill or would be interested in being a vocational skill training site for Keshet, please contact Ellie.