Shawn works 30 hours per week as a cook in Dairy Queen’s hot kitchen with assistance from a COC job coach

Christian Opportunity Center (COC) is increasing its supported employment efforts in the wake of new State rules eliminating sheltered employment.

COC has been providing supported employment services since 1987 and has many success stories of people who have become long-tenured, dependable employees in community businesses. COC provides on-the-job training and support to help people with disabilities learn the necessary job duties to be successful in employment.

Through its supported employment, COC helps people with disabilities find and maintain employment, with an emphasis on finding the right job match for each person. COC has helped people find employment in a variety of settings, including: retail, grocery stores, restaurants, meal delivery, cleaning services, and production work in factories.

Kim Koellner, COC Regional Director for Vocational Services, oversees both supported employment and sheltered employment.

“Job coaches serve a dual role as they strive to support individuals by assisting them in exploring their interests and strengths and with the process of becoming employed,” Koellner said. “Once hired, they provide support to learn the job, develop natural supports, and periodic support on the job. At the same time, job coaches support employers by learning about their business needs and work culture so that they can support the individual to be a successful employee.”

COC is currently operating supported employment in Indianola, Knoxville, Oskaloosa and Pella.

If your business is interested in employing a person with disabilities through COC’s supported employment, contact Vocational Program Manager Cathy Wilson (E:; P: (641) 673-9467, ext. 17).

“Supported employment has experienced growth in several ways during the past year, primarily due to referrals from Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation (IVR) and as a result of Career Exploration classes,” said Koellner. “The services are working in a complimentary manner by providing exposure, practice, and support to the process of obtaining and maintaining employment in the community. In addition to serving individuals from COC, growth is also occurring due to IVRS referrals from the community who choose COC as their provider for job development and other services.”

The reason for an increased focus on COC’s supported employment is the elimination of sheltered employment. For decades, advocacy groups have fought to eliminate sheltered employment, believing that every person with a disability should be working in a community business.

COC currently employs people with disabilities in its sheltered employment in Pella and Oskaloosa. COC contracts for production work with more than 30 companies to provide production services such as small parts packaging, general assembly, mail processing, digital document recording, shredding, delivery, and woodworking.

By May 2018, people will no longer have the opportunity to earn a paycheck in COC’s plants.

Despite the elimination of sheltered employment—which accounts for only two of the 38 programs offered by COC—COC will continue to offer residential and spiritual services in addition to its supported employment and non-work oriented day program.

Founded in 1969, COC provides residential, spiritual and vocational support and services to more than 300 people with disabilities in Mahaska, Marion, Polk and Warren counties. For more information visit