By Tanya Giraldo
Getting a job nowadays is not as easy as filling out a job application, turning it in and awaiting a phone call.
Businesses now require stellar resumes with experience and references. Some come by the add-ons to a job application easily, but many with developmental disabilities don’t have the same opportunities.
To solve the problem, Arkansas Support Network opened a new non-profit program April 1 called Encore Kids.
“It’s a thrift store,” said Clarence Johnson Jr., a Workbridge training coordinator. “It provides job placement for people with disabilities.”
As part of the Workbridge NWA program, participants are involved in the 70-day program that consists of two components, said Kristen Hill, supportive employment coordinator.
“The first component is a classroom setting in which we help participants set up a resume, fill out applications and learn the skills required for the workplace,” Hill said.
Participants also attend lectures from instructors and participate in group activities.
“The second component is working in Encore Kids from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.,” Hill said.
According to Hill, participants earn minimum wage while working in the Encore Kids thrift store, they learn on-the-job skills, pricing, cleaning and handling of merchandise.
“They receive real experience that they can put on their resumes,” Hill said.
Keith Vire, CEO of Arkansas Support Network, came up with the idea of incorporating a program where individuals could work and get training that could be used to get jobs in the working world, said Johnson.
“This is their first real job,” said Johnson. “They receive their first paycheck, they learn the process, they learn about taxes too.”
All participants are referred by Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and the program aims to keep about ten people at one time, although that is not always the case.
“It is not a sheltered workshop,” Hill said. “They earn minimum wage as opposed to sub-minimum wage.”
Before Encore Kids, Workbridge tried other programs, such as the Starfish Online Market in which donated goods were sold by participants on Ebay. Another program included participants making homemade dog biscuits and selling them online as well.
Encore Kids had their grand opening in June and continues to accept donations of children’s items for ages 0 to 10 years old.
The main goal is to provide an opportunity for integrated work experience for the participants and to ultimately take part in the community, Hill said.
The program currently holds a 45 percent placement rate and has five participants currently working at Encore Kids.
“Our hope for the program is to help more people get jobs, referrals and interview skills that are transferable,” Johnson said.
He also believes a goal for the future is to open more stores and to have higher wages for the participants.
“Arkansas Support Network has a lot of programs and non-profit support services, especially for people with disabilities,” Hill said. “The purpose of our programs is to get people out of institutions and integrated into the community and the workplace.”
Encore Kids is located at 1349 East Henri de Tonti Blvd., Suite A in Tontitown.