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Ramsey County Community Action Team

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Update and 5 Questions for Teams (September 2011)

Ramsey County Community Human Services (RCCHS) is a member of the Employment First Coalition and is committed to working to making employment the first outcome for people with disabilities. RCCHS was selected as a lead organization for a Community Action Team (CAT) which formed a little over a year ago in partnership with MNTAT (MN Employment Training and Technical Assistance Center). Since that time, Ramsey County has worked with MNTAT to coordinate approximately 80 hours of training in our local community. As we strive to put all this training into practice for the people we serve, our CAT has identified the need for more intensive technical assistance.

We’ve recently organized a series of monthly brainstorming sessions and have expanded our CAT by inviting more people to the table who are working with the Discovery and Customized Employment process and in need of a creative space to exchange strategies and ideas. If you are interested in joining us, please contact Dawn Bacon at or 651-266-4194.

We’ve learned a lot so far and want to share our experiences so others can benefit. Below are 5 questions for people and teams engaged in Discovery and Customized Employment to consider:

  1. Are we working with a Staging Record? It is important to maintain a strong commitment to working the process. Using tools like the Staging Record, which documents and guides the process, is essential to moving forward and keeping things deliberate and focused.
  2. How many informational interviews are we doing and where are we going? Once solid vocational themes are identified, getting the person frequent, face to face interactions with potential employers is “Job #1” for employment specialists and teams. Remember an informational interview is not a job interview. In fact, some organizations have changed their language to refer to it as something other than an “interview” in an effort to be clearer about its intent with job seekers, parents and teams. Whatever you call it, beware of the tendency to gravitate back to the usual, familiar places. rue discovery is all about meeting people and going to places that we never knew about before.
  3. Are we focusing on abundance? We become less dependent on the current labor market when we stop thinking in terms of job descriptions and more about understanding a person’s skills and places where those skills make sense. (It has been said that all of us are walking around with about 5 or so job descriptions in our heads!) Customized Employment is about creating job opportunities rather than going after jobs that everyone else is competing for. Remember, there are unlimited ways to make a living!
  4. Is the Employment Specialist getting regular ongoing training and have other people to consult with who are experienced? Initial training is not enough for staff who are facilitating a Discovery and Customized Employment Process. They need ongoing interaction with others who are engaged in this approach to brainstorm, discuss themes, strategize and work through issues.
  5. Is the team involved in the process and involved in its ongoing development? Good communication with ID teams about roles and expectations and how the process works is always essential but even more so when using an approach that may be less familiar to people. Individuals and families need to have the process clearly explained to them and feel part of the process and strategy ongoing.

Ramsey County CAT Activities

December 8, 2010

The majority of this meeting was spent debriefing about the Second Annual Disability & Employment Conference. We talked about the strengths, weaknesses, and improvements for a potential conference in 2011. We also spent some time talking about what 2011 looks like for the CATs.

November 15 & 16, 2010

The Ramsey County CAT was participated in the Second Annual Disability & Employment Conference. We spoke at the conference, facilitated some table conversations, and participated in the Resource Area.

October 18, 2010

Today was the Community Action Team Summit. All of the Community Actions Teams were at the Summit. Tammara Geary flew in for the event.

October 5, 2010

In today's meeting, we the Community Action Team Summit that is being held on October 18. We also talked about the different possibilities for the CATs in 2011. We discussed the jobseeker's themes and whether or not those themes are the right fit for them.

September 15, 2010

Most of the Discovery teams are beginning to create and move forward on the lists of 20 that they have created for their jobseekers. A majority of the discussion today was spent identifying different struggles in the process and discussing themes more thoroughly.

September 2, 2010

Today Bob met with each team in the Ramsey County CAT to do consultations on their jobseekers. We identified many different aspects of the jobseekers: interests, skills, connections, conditions of employment, etc. After discussing all of these things, we were able to identify three themes for every jobseeker!

August 9, 2010

The team has really begun to identify themes with the different jobseekers, because we've had more time with them. Different interests, skills, and struggles were identified with the different jobseekers. We reviewed the two upcoming events: Consultations on September 2nd and a meeting with Cary Griffin on September 15th!

August 2, 2010

Today we had training on Job Development & Negotiation.

July 19, 2010

Today was one of our first chances to thoroughly discuss the different jobseekers that we are working with. Each team identified where they are at in the process with their individual and what they have learned so far. Bob Niemiec talked in more detail about how the Discovery process relates to where the teams are at with their individuals.

July 7, 2010

We had training on Systematic Instruction today.

June 24, 2010

Cary Griffin was in town for today’s meeting! We were able to debrief about the combined meeting from June 2 and have Q & A time about the Discovery process. We discussed where people are feeling confused about the process and how to move forward.

June 2, 2010

Today our team had the benefit of joining up with the West Metro Community Action Team for a morning of consultation with Cary Griffin. Our team hasn’t started doing discovery yet but it was very helpful to listen to the questions posed by the West Metro team and the advice and perspectives that Cary and Bob offered. This helped us begin to think about ways to bring information from training into practice. We also held a short meeting with providers after the session ended. We have linked each of the individuals to a provider and a sixth person is participating in our CAT utilizing a staff they are working with through CDCS funds (Consumer Directed Community Supports).

May 27, 2010

Today marked our first Steering Committee Meeting. Agenda items for discussion included an overview of the CAT process and goals, a debrief from the training and how we see the role of the steering committee. We also reviewed the calendar of upcoming meetings and trainings.

May 26, 2010

Over 60 people came together today for an all day training entitled “Foundations of Successful Customized Employment: An Introduction to Customized Employment and Discovery”. This was a repeat for those from our team unable to attend in March. It was great to look around the room and see such a mix of people. Family members, teachers, advocates, vocational and residential providers as well as Vocational Rehabilitation and County staff were all in attendance. We offered this training to our CAT partners and then added additional capacity for other partners interested in learning more about this process. One of the things the training addressed was how discovery focuses on small, explorative steps that really sustains an individualized process. I think we are much more accustomed to making what Bob referred to as “huge leaps” where we jump from interest to commitment very quickly. As professionals, I think many of us can relate to the comfort and familiarity of the program paradigm where things are pre-determined and have set criteria. Discovery really turns that on its head and challenges us to stay with the person through a more fluid process rather than trying to fit them into a particular model.

May 17, 2010

A number of people involved in our team attended the MN APSE conference today. The theme of the conference was “Employment: Everybody, Everywhere”. Featured speakers were Jim Meehan, Executive Director of KFI in northern Maine and Russell Sickles, Supported Employment Manager of Job Squad Inc. in Bridgeport, West Virginia. Both have shown that employment is possible in small towns and economies hit hardest by the recession. Laura Owens, Executive Director of APSE was also in attendance and facilitated a dynamic café conversation about ways to move employment forward in Minnesota. The information and discussion encouraged us to capitalize on resources and stay open to doing things a little differently so that “EVERYWHERE” can include “RIGHT HERE” in our local community.

May 13, 2010

We have identified the individuals we will be working with and today I touched base with their county case managers to talk about where we are at and what our next steps will be. We talked about the differences that exist with young adults still attending school and those who are about to graduate (people include 2010 and 2011 graduates). For people out of school, they are in a time of significant change and that coupled with the open schedule might spur the temptation to find a “quick fix” when it comes to employment. Good discovery doesn’t include short-cuts and we don’t want to undermine the process. We want to get at the quality results that discovery can bring. We will raise this in an upcoming consultation and talked about working with people to plan how they can spend their days in a meaningful way. We also began to think about how we will connect individuals to the providers selected to participate in the process. We’d like each provider to have the opportunity to work with at least one person.

May 7th, 2010

Today we met with MNTAT to discuss the proposals that came in and make selections. We are excited to be working with three of our contracted providers in this endeavor. They include Access To Employment, Kaposia and Legacy Endeavors.

April 19, 2010

We recently released a Request for Proposals for our contracted providers and held an informational session about the project to talk with those who are thinking about participating. One of intended outcomes is that this experience will build organizational capacity for providers that participate.

April 5, 2010

Tonight we held an informational session to talk to student and families thinking about participating in the CAT. A total of twenty people came together, including seven individuals, six parents, four county case managers, MNTAT staff and other Ramsey staff. We will be following up with a couple of people individually to talk more about the project. Getting information and fielding questions so we are all on the same page is important to do as we proceed. Doing so requires pointing out how this project is different. This is not a new service program that we are referring people to and it also isn’t some kind of experiment. We are learning approaches that are new to us but that are well demonstrated. Growing into this will hopefully result in better outcomes for individuals and communities.

March 29, 2010

Our CAT is still in the formation stage but those of us involved had the opportunity to attend the initial training on Customized Employment hosted by the West Metro CAT. A number of our case managers currently working with candidates for this project attended the training. The training consisted of an overview of CE and Discovery practices and provided an excellent foundation for our work ahead. I think it helped all of us become even more versed in this approach as we talk with students and families. We’ll be offering this training again for our team in May for those who weren’t able to attend today.

March 3, 2010

And away we go! Ramsey County staff and MNTAT met today to discuss a number of next steps with the project. I’m preparing to return to work from maternity leave and brought baby Laura along to join us in the meeting. We talked about the ways that people will be organized around our intended outcome of 5 people becoming successfully employed and how we will be working with people in various roles to achieve this goal. Training and consultation will be offered in a way that balances how to make it work in practice with strategies to address some of the issues that will undoubtedly emerge as we apply this approach across multiple systems.

In our discussion, MNTAT helped us further explore what the process of discovery is all about. How can we work with people in a way where, in the end, we won’t need to even ask for a job? This approach is not the way most of us are used to operating. It is refreshing and challenging!

Our next step is to wrap up our recruitment and to identify the five people and teams we will be working with.