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ComWell wins $350,000 state grant to fund job coaches

  • ComWell is expanding its employment services for Randolph County residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities thanks to a more than $375,000 grant from the state.

    ComWell is expanding its employment services for Randolph County residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities thanks to a more than $375,000 grant from the state.
    Courtesy of ComWell

  • Sarah Ward

    Sarah Ward

  • Sharon Richardson

    Sharon Richardson

 
Herald Tribune report
updated: 6/14/2022 4:24 PM

ComWell is expanding its employment services for Randolph County residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities thanks to a more than $375,000 grant from the state.

The Competitive Integrated Employment grant from the state of Illinois Division of Developmental Disabilities will be used to provide job coaches and training, as well as community outreach over the next three years.

With the new funding, ComWell is expanding and changing the way it provides job services to its clients.

The guiding principle behind the change is that everyone with a disability deserves to work in an integrated, competitive environment, according to Sarah Ward, Director of Developmental Disabilities. This means getting paid at least minimum wage.

In the past, ComWell has provided supported employment, where companies would contract with them and ComWell would pay the clients directly based on the pace of work compared to nondisabled individuals.

Under the Competitive Integrated Employment program, clients will work for companies directly with the support of ComWell's on-site job coaches, who will be certified employment support professionals.

CIE's goal, Ward said, is to find competitive work for people that meets their needs while supporting them along the way.

"If you want a job, we provide the services and support to make sure you're successful," Ward said.

Thanks to the grant, ComWell's CIE program will now have four dedicated job coaches led by employment manager Sharon Richardson, who works to find employers and match jobs to clients. The grant is also funding the purchase of new video cameras and computer equipment to help clients make visual resumes that showcase their skills and personalities.

The CIE program is already seeing success; just this week five clients have transitioned to competitive employment.

"It's amazing how community members have opened their hearts to the idea of competitive integrated employment," Ward said. "The community has been great about listening and understanding, and is willing to work with our clients."

One of the first major companies to sign on is Gilster-Mary Lee.

"The team members that work with us are a dedicated and productive part of our workforce," Gilster-Mary Lee President Tom Welge said in a statement shared by ComWell. "They bring enthusiasm to their work each day, and they are a pleasure to be around."

As the program expands, ComWell is working to open doors for more individuals with disabilities in the county. Ward said she would love to see 10 brand new clients in CIE over the next year.

"There are so many opportunities available if you just know about them," she said.

ComWell provides a range of behavioral health services to Randolph and Washington counties with offices in Chester, Red Bud, Sparta and Okawville.

To learn more about ComWell's CIE for yourself or a family member, call Ward at (618) 282-6233, ext. 106, or email sward@comwell.us. Employers interested in working with ComWell clients should call Richardson at (618) 282-6233, ext. 149, or email srichardson@comwell.us.