Options Clients Shifting from Sheltered Workshop to Volunteer Jobs

Former sheltered workshop participants at Options of Linn County are now doing more volunteer...
Former sheltered workshop participants at Options of Linn County are now doing more volunteer jobs around the community. This project was repairing books for the Cops-N-Kids program.(KCRG)
Published: Dec. 16, 2015 at 4:46 PM CST
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Some eastern Iowa people with disabilities are getting more opportunities to help out in their communities.

Options of Linn County is phasing out a 50-year-old sheltered workshop operation for the physically and intellectually disabled. That’s due to federal rules changes that make it harder for organizations to pay workers a less-than-minimum wage.

But Options is responding to that coming change by switching programming to offer clients some of the same kind of opportunities outside the sheltered workshop environment.

Many of those in the county’s workshop have switched to taking part in a day habilitation or “day-hab” program. And that program is giving participants more of an opportunity to get out in the community and do useful work.

One example took place Wednesday afternoon at the Cedar Rapids Police Department’s substation on 1st Avenue S.E.

About ten former sheltered workshop participants helped the Quota International club repair books that police will pass out to kids. It’s called the Cops-N-Kids program and it encourages kids to read.

Former sheltered workshop clients like Alicia Rozen don’t get the small paychecks from piecework by doing volunteer jobs like repairing books. But she still gets satisfaction.

“It gets us out in the community and it makes other people feel good,” Rozen said.

Judy Monk, day-hab program director for Options of Linn County, said there was some concern about the reaction of those who couldn’t do the sheltered workshop jobs they once did. But she’s pleased with the reaction so far to the organized volunteer opportunities.

“That was the biggest surprise in all of this. I think most of the people we talk with are very happy. They feel a sense of purpose again,” Monk said.

A couple of years ago, the sheltered workshop inside the county building would have had about 100 people sorting items, stuffing envelopes and doing similar contract jobs for outside companies. That number is down to about 30 now as the workshop winds down with a permanent closing set for this coming June.

There has been considerable growth in the day-hab program as many of the former workers went there because they weren’t able to do outside employment.

The county stopped soliciting jobs for the workshop but has now switched to partnering with outside nonprofit groups to provide volunteer opportunities for the disabled. Twenty five so far have worked with those Options clients and for the groups, it’s a definite win.

Betty Hargraves of Quota International said “I think it’s wonderful for them because you get the sense they are part of the community.”

Options leaders say volunteer work also teaches some of the same skills as the workshop jobs. That’s how to be on time, to be respectful and work with others. Those are lessons participants can use as they look for work opportunities out in the community.