By MICHELLE BOXELL Cardinal Center Community Relations Manager
In its 60th year of existence, Cardinal Services is a mainstay of the Warsaw community. Serving nearly 4,000 men, women and children every year, it employs close to 500 people, and is a $19.5 million not-for-profit company.
Yet, beyond knowing that Cardinal works with people who have disabilities, most of us have little idea of what they do. In this first article observing Cardinal’s anniversary year, we introduce you to a program many of us come across without even realizing it: Career Links, which helps people with disabilities obtain employment in the community.
Since Cardinal’s founding in 1954, a goal of families has been that their sons and daughters will be part of the community, including getting the proper training to get a job and earn a living. It took some time for the rest of society to share this goal, but in 1975 the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed and employment became more than a dream for disabled Americans. Cardinal began its Supported Employment program – now known as Career Links – one year later, in 1976.
Career Links is the only disability program at Cardinal that serves people with any type of disability. The other programs serve only those with intellectual/developmental disabilities. Career Links’ clients may also include the man who suffered a stroke and has limited mobility, and the woman who was in a car accident and can no longer do the job she once did because of chronic pain.
Working closely with employers in the community, Cardinal’s job developers identify potential jobs, and then match the job to the person. A job coach trains and works alongside the employee until they are able to perform the work, returning to observe and coach as needed so that the costs of training are not shouldered by the employer.
This year, Career Links will work with more than 400 people, helping them secure stable, long-term employment. People like Peni Hoff.
Without oxygen for 7 minutes at birth, Hoff has faced a number of challenges, but she faces them head–on and with a spirit few who meet her can overlook. Two years ago, as a young, single mom Hoff was working multiple low-paying jobs at a time just hoping to make ends meet. She was living with her grandmother and dreaming of a better future where she worked just one good job and had time to spend with her kids, and where they had their own home with a safe place for the kids to play outside. With these goals in mind, Hoff made an appointment with Career Links.
Meeting with her job coach, Hoff learned how to fill out an application. “I had filled out dozens of applications, but never got called back. I think my applications went straight into the trash before I learned how to do it right.” Career Links taught Hoff how to write an application that encouraged the employer to call her. She also learned how to interview well, so when R.R. Donnelley decided to talk with Hoff, she was prepared. After the interview, four people were given the chance to “audition” for the position. A few hours on the job was all it took to convince RRD that Hoff was the employee for whom they were looking.
More than a year later, Hoff is still on the job in Donnelley’s recycling department. Supervisor Rob Engle says she is one of the most productive workers ever to hold the position. “It was a great hire for us.” He goes on to add that RRD has worked with Career Links since 1976, finding good employees who are happy to have a job and are ready to work.
This past December at Indiana’s state-wide conference for supported employment in Indianapolis, Hoff received the IN-APSE 2013 Professional Achievement Award singling out her success. Today, Hoff and her children are celebrating the latest sign of her success as they have just moved into their new home.
To learn more about Career Links or schedule an appointment, call Cardinal Services at 574-267-3823.