(A message from COC Executive Director Rod Braun)
Why Sheltered Employment is Ending at COC
On May 4, 2016, the State announced that funding for sheltered employment would end in two years. This was not a decision by the Iowa Legislature but instead was made by State officials at the Department of Human Services. Sheltered employment is a service whereby COC contracts with local businesses to perform certain tasks such as packaging and assembly. The concept is to train people and then place them in community jobs using their new skills. Many people receiving supports through COC have found community jobs through this model over the decades. This service began at COC in 1974 and allowed people with disabilities to earn a paycheck. To make this possible, COC has maintained a “subminimum wage certificate” with the Department of Labor (DOL) for many decades.
For the past couple of decades, some advocacy groups have argued that sheltered employment unnecessarily segregates people with disabilities from the regular workplace. They prefer “supported employment” whereby a trained COC staff member works with a person in a community business to learn the job and then gradually fades the person’s supports over time. So, unlike sheltered employment where the order is “train then place,” supported employment reverses the order by placing and then training on the job. COC has been providing supported employment services since 1987.
Three factors have led to the end of sheltered employment. The first is the work of some advocacy groups previously mentioned. Advocacy groups received a big boost in 2009, when a story broke in Atalissa, Iowa where Henry’s Turkey Service (HTS) based out of Texas was providing workers with disabilities for a local turkey processing plant at $0.42 per hour. HTS did not have a valid subminimum wage certificate from the DOL. There are two ironies with using this incident as the “poster child” for doing away with sheltered employment. The first is that the jobs in the local turkey processing plant were not sheltered employment jobs, but jobs in a community business. The second irony is that some advocacy groups regularly tout “choice” for people with disabilities, but now they will no longer be able to “choose” sheltered employment.
The second factor is the efforts in the United States House of Representatives to pass legislation that would eliminate subminimum wage certificates for organizations like COC within three years of passage, and effectively end sheltered employment in all 50 states. The current legislation is known as the TIME Act (HR 1377). TIME is an acronym for “Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment.” Implied in the title is that sheltered employment is not meaningful.
The third and likely most significant factor is recent actions by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). In 2012, the DOJ ruled in Oregon that sheltered employment is a violation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead Decision. The Olmstead Decision was about two women living in a state institution in Georgia who wanted to live in a community group home. The Supreme Court ruled that they had the right to live in the community. However, part of the ruling was also that people with disabilities who chose a more restrictive setting should have that choice honored. This would mean that people choosing sheltered employment should have that choice honored. In 2014, the DOJ also ruled in Rhode Island that sheltered employment was a violation of the ADA and the Olmstead Decision.
As a result of these three efforts, COC is in the process of phasing out sheltered employment in Pella and Oskaloosa. Over many decades, local businesses have provided a large volume of contract work providing real jobs for people with disabilities and the opportunity to earn a paycheck. COC hopes to continue partnering with local businesses as we phase out sheltered employment and provide community jobs for people with disabilities. COC provides a variety of supports to make people with disabilities successful in community businesses.
With these mandated changes coming up in the next few months, people with disabilities previously in sheltered employment will have three choices: (1) participate in a community job with supports from COC as needed; (2) participate in our Life Skills (aka Day Habilitation) program that is a non-work oriented day program; or (3) they can choose not to participate in either program. With the end of sheltered employment, COC will continue to provide a wide variety of residential and vocational supports and services with 34 of COC’s 36 services continuing.
Founded in 1969, COC provides residential and vocational supports and services to more than 250 people with disabilities in Marion, Mahaska, Warren, and Polk Counties.
At Christian Opportunity Center(COC), our Christian Faith has always been a cornerstone of our organization, and we take extreme pride in that. COC’s Spiritual Services Team is designed to meet the spiritual needs of the COC community. Michelle De Bruin is COC’s Spiritual Facilitator; she holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Central College in Religion with an emphasis on Christian Ministries and Music. Here Michelle will go more into depth what our Spiritual Services provides for the COC People Supported and Staff.
Greetings. Welcome to Spiritual Services at COC. I’m Michelle De Bruin, the Spiritual Services Facilitator. I’ve been in this position since May of 2015, and I’m pleased to share with you all of the discipleship opportunities available to the people COC supports.
Our most well-known program is the Friendship Bible Hour. This ministry was developed by Friendship Ministries based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Their mission is to share God’s love with people who have intellectual disabilities.
Friendship Bible Hour meets on Tuesdays during the school year at Faith Christian Reformed Church for an hour of Bible study, singing, prayer, and snacks. COC’s ICF department also participates in Bible studies because volunteers come to their homes to meet with them weekly. The volunteers who lead the Friendship Bible Hour program represent four local congregations.
Once a month, Friendship Bible Hour hosts social events on Tuesday evenings. People enjoy Thanksgiving parties, Valentine parties, Easter services, local singing groups, and puppet shows at these gatherings.
Spiritual Services hosts two retreats per year for people COC supports. One retreat is coming up in November. This retreat is attended by HCBS program recipients from Pella, Knoxville, and Indianola. We gather on a Saturday at Celebrate Community Church in Knoxville and enjoy praise and worship, teaching, craft making, a wonderful lunch provided by Pella Christian Schools, and spending time with our friends. This year’s retreat will focus on the Lord’s Prayer as the theme.
The second retreat is in April, also held at Celebrate Community Church in Knoxville. This retreat is for the ICF department and follows the same format of singing, teaching, making crafts, and enjoying lunch together.
Spiritual Services also provides Bible studies for people COC supports. In Pella, Bible study is offered during the break time two Wednesday mornings per month, and on Thursday afternoons twice per month.
On the opposite weeks, I travel to Oskaloosa for Bible study during the lunch hour on Thursdays. On Mondays of those same weeks, I travel to Indianola and Des Moines for Bible studies. We studied the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5 to 7 during the summer. Currently, we are studying Jesus’ healing power and the commissioning of his disciples in Matthew chapters 9 and 10.
Oskaloosa’s program participates in their own retreat in November and a Christmas party in December. Both are hosted over extended lunch hours.
COC’s Spiritual Services also includes a team of leadership staff who work together to plan an annual retreat for COC staff. This year’s retreat occurred in September in three locations. Pella’s retreat was held in Third Reformed Church’s chapel. Oskaloosa’s retreat was at the Stillwaters Cabin on Steve and Jan Boender’s farm. The Indianola retreat was at the Ridgetop Horse Ranch near Milo. Our featured speaker this year was Sabra Dyas, founder of Main Street Ministries. The retreats include a catered lunch, praise and worship, presenting staff with gifts, and drawing for prizes.
Although the spiritual nurture component is a big part of COC’s unique identity, we respect the rights of the people we support to choose not to participate in spiritual nurture activities. However, the majority of our Staff and Persons Supported do take advantage of all that COC Spiritual Services has to offer. It has been a cornerstone that has led many families and staff to choose COC for services and employment. COC staff Temple Wright commented, “The retreats that Spiritual Services plans are so inspirational and I really enjoy how we come together as an organization.” If you would like more information on our Spiritual Services, contact Michelle at email@example.com