A few days ago, some of the Employment First team members had the opportunity to go to Eugene to meet with Liz Fox and her crew at Alternative Work Concepts.
Alternative Work Concepts (AWC) started in 1986 when it received a Department of Education grant to work with individuals with multiple disabilities who were transitioning out of school or institutions.
Jacque Gerdes, assistant executive director of AWC, is one of the organization’s founders. She said integrated employment has always been their focus.
“We have always been about Employment First and integrated employment and the belief that everyone who wants to work can work,” she said.
Today, AWC is a nonprofit employment agency serving clients in the Eugene/Springfield area. The organization currently has 35 clients; of those, 31 are working in integrated jobs and four are undergoing job development. All of AWC’s clients make minimum wage or better, at industry standards.
AWC only serves clients with significant multiple disabilities – physical as well as cognitive.
Scott Whetham, program coordinator for AWC, said the organization prides itself on successfully finding jobs for people once considered “too disabled to work.”
“Years ago we served a client named Robbie who had cerebral palsy, and was blind, deaf and mute,” he said. “People weren’t sure what he wanted to do. We visited his house and discovered he had good finger dexterity because he had this bead device he worked on for hours.”
AWC then took Robbie on tours to several job sites, and eventually ended up in an office with a microfiche machine. Robbie’s body language changed when he felt the microfiche machine. He eventually ended up working 20 hours a week for many years as a microfilm operator.
“We are always looking at the person, and what their needs are,” said Liz Fox, executive director of AWC. “We also do a lot of networking with the business community to open up new avenues for our clients.”
Fox said AWC is eager to share its practices with individuals, schools, organizations and field staff. AWC offers technical assistance, and is always available to take people on tours to see that individuals with significant multiple disabilities can work and be successful.