"The disabled population is the largest minority in the state and the poorest minority," said Charles Carr, Commissioner of the MRC. "Having been on public benefits, I want to break that cycle."
Carr was speaking to Jeffrey Simon, director of the Massachusetts Recovery & Reinvestment Office, on a visit Simon took to the Fallon Clinic in Worcester to see how the Worcester MRC implemented its Recovery Act funds. Simon noted that he was there at the behest of Governor Deval Patrick, who instructed Simon to see firsthand the impact of stimulus funds on the people in Massachusetts.
The MRC, which has 24 offices across the state, received $6 million in stimulus funds for Vocational Rehabilitation Services as well as $243K for Independent Living Services and $1.8 million for Centers for Independent Living.
Stimulus Funding for MRC
According to Carr, when the stimulus funds were made available the first thing he did was hire six employment service specialists who marketed the agency and worked with employers. "They asked employers, what do you need?" he said. "We have a pool of people. How can we work with you? The bottom line was: How can we get these people jobs?"
"This is paid work experience on the job in a company," said Ellen Spense, a job placement specialist with MRC in Worcester. "This is the chance to get confidence, build a resume and the company can see if the person is a good fit. It's really hard when there's no way into a company," added Spense. "My consumer will be screened out of a normal screening process. The Recovery Act funding made it possible for them to get a chance, to get a foot in the door. It put them on the job and made them more employable."
The MRC used $300K of its stimulus funds on the OJT/OJE program with $50K used in the Worcester program. According to Spense, 70 percent of those funds went right into the consumer's paycheck.
The employment results so far are impressive: 62 percent of the job-ready participants went to work as a result of the Fallon/Kelly/MRC partnership. Overall, 14 MRC consumers participated in four area companies and nine consumers were offered work as a result. The average hourly wage was nearly $14 an hour.
MRC's Vocational Rehabilitation Services
"The stimulus money paved a road for us," said Spense. "Less than year ago, these folks were unemployed and now they're working. Great people got great jobs and great companies got great employees."
One of those is Cindy Jones, who was diagnosed 11 years ago with Myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease. Prior to that, Jones had her own company selling medical equipment but eventually her disease forced her to quit. "I could have gone and collected disability but I wasn't ready to do that," she said. "I now can learn what I can do. This program has been life changing."
Jones is referring to the OTJ program, which she participated in last fall at Fallon Clinic in its billing and coding department. She is now working at the Clinic and was recently promoted to a 32 hour a week position. "This is an opportunity I would not have had if it were not for this program," she said.
Paul Bordonaro, vice president and regional manager of Kelly Services, agreed. "We're grateful for the opportunity the Recovery Act gave us. It brought government and private industry together to achieve a goal: create jobs. We found that by opening our doors, we were able to use an underutilized pipeline of talent."