Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jewish Vocational Services for people with learning disabilities expands services to another Illinois county

From The Beacon News:

ELGIN, Ill. — With a long record of serving Cook County youth, Jewish Vocational Services wanted to expand those services to Kane County.

Its new location in downtown Elgin’s DuPage Court is just about perfect for that, said Gail Luxenberg Gruen (pictured), executive director of the 126-year-old social service agency.

JVS Chicago is a non-sectarian organization funded through the federal Workforce Investment Act and other private organizations to help youth ages 16-21 who have learning disabilities find employment.

That is an employment area that needed help in Kane County, officials said.

A study by the River Valley Workforce Investment Board showed a deficiency in programming to help youth with learning disabilities find work, said Rick Kurtz, JVS chief operating officer. An Elgin office will help fill that gap, he added.

The office opened at the beginning of the school year, said Eiffel Santos, one of the employment coordinators. Currently, it is serving three individuals, but hope to help between 40 and 50 youths in the Elgin area annually.

It works with youths with learning or behavioral disabilities, the hard of hearing or deaf, or any disability that might be a barrier to working.

People often confuse “learning disability” with “physical disability,” Gruen said. While that is the case with some clients, it is not with all of their clients, she added.

The agency works with the young people to define what kind of work they can or want to do, then act as a referral service to get them needed skills, Gruen said. It also can help tutor students in needed math and literacy skills, prepare them for job interviews, and get them on-the-job skill training; or help students who have dropped out of school get their GED so they can get a job.

“We go over their needs and do a lot of one-on-one practice so they are comfortable with answering questions” during a job interview, Gruen said.

Students are only part of their clientele — the other portion is employers.

They work with food service providers and retail chains in the Chicago area, many with janitorial positions, and offer on-the-job skills training for those positions as well, Santos said.

Janitorial positions are only part of the training available. JVS might also help the students find positions as automotive technicians, electrical or plumbing assistants, or other specific areas targeted to their abilities and needs, Kurtz said. Apprenticeships or internships also are common ways to help the young people find jobs that match their skills, he added.

In the current economy, finding jobs for anyone can be difficult, the officials noted. By working with the employers, they can overcome some of the obstacles — like letting the employer know about tax credits available for hiring those with learning disabilities. Employers also can be comforted by knowing the potential employees have been pre-screened and that they can come into a job with the skills they need, Gruen said. “A person with a disability might be more prepared to work than someone else” hired off the street, she added.

Perhaps more importantly, Santos said, JVS is a support system for young people who may not have one.

“So much of their lives, with a disability, has been focused on what they can’t do,” Santos said. “We focus on what they can achieve and develop a rapport that is helpful.”