By: J. Chevont’e Alexander
Employment is a powerful word; it evokes feelings of worthiness, security and especially acceptance. And for people with disabilities – a feeling of great accomplishment and personal achievement.
Unfortunately, the employment statistics are staggering, but the Richmond Entrepreneur’s Assistance Program (REAP) is making things happen in the community and giving real people, real voices, real jobs, and real hope for the future.
The employment rate for adults with a disability is 20.5 percent vs. 69.1 percent without a disability. The unemployment rate for adults with a disability is 14.1 percent vs. 7.1 percent without (2013 US Department of Labor Report). REAP is focused on making a difference in the lives of the people in our community, offering real jobs and equal opportunities for everyone.
REAP was established in July 2010 with the goal of providing assistance to people who were unemployed or underemployed and had the desire to start their own business. They launched collaboratively; building relationships with all of the local, state and federal workforce development organizations in the greater Richmond area. The need was great and they were able to help people in many ways: hosting events, making referrals, and providing mentors and financial assistance.
In July 2011, they made the decision to focus on providing job training and direct employment for individuals with disabilities within REAP operated businesses. Their goal is to provide a unique service to this population and to create a model that could be replicated to serve other people who face additional employment challenges (refugees, ex-offenders, veterans, single mothers, seniors, young adults aging out of foster care, etc.). REAP provides comprehensive training and employment for individuals with disabilities; giving people real hope, support and transferable skills that help equip them for employment.
A Good Business Decision
Walgreens, and now a report by the National Governors Association, show businesses can benefit by seeing disabled workers not as charity cases but employees with uncommon qualities that can enhance profits. In the “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities” report, the report aims to help states support a trend in American business led by Walgreens.
“Our error rate went down when I hired people with disabilities in our marketing department.” says a local Richmond business owner. “It’s just a good business decision.”
Studies of Walgreens’ experience at a few distribution centers show disabled workers are more efficient and loyal than nondisabled workers. Absenteeism has gone down, turnover is less, and safety statistics are up. And the cost of accommodating such workers with new technologies and education is minimal.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell, the recent head of the governors’ association and the leader behind the report, says employers must focus on a person’s ability rather than disability – or even on how a disability enhances a person’s employability. Many disabled workers are so grateful for a job that they work harder. Some industries, such as software and data testing, prefer workers with certain disabilities, such as autism, because of a person’s intense focus on detail.
- People with Disabilities take 10 times longer to get a job than their non-disabled counterparts (VA DRS statistic).
- The Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services developed 8,898 individual employment plans for 2012, with a total of 3,390 becoming employed after receiving services. (VA DRS 2010 Annual Report).
- Among college graduates, 47% of People with Disabilities were unemployed compared to 17% of their non-disabled peers (2011 Cornell unemployment study).
VIDEO: More than the Chair
REAP’s Job Training
Using a social enterprise model, REAP applies an entrepreneurial approach to address the high unemployment rate for people with disabilities. They help real people find real jobs through the following REAP-owned non-profit businesses:
• Heart to Heart Gift Baskets & Packaging
• New 2 U Sports
• Personal Chef Catering
REAP works with a variety of public and private partnerships in Henrico, Chesterfield, and Richmond school systems, The Choice Group, Northstar Academy and Career Support Systems.
“REAP and Northstar Academy have forged a wonderful partnership which complements both nonprofits and allows them to offer students the opportunity to explore their interests, learn employable skills and build self confidence in an environment in which they feel safe to take risks in order to gain experience to be competitive in today’s work environment.” commented Patricia West, Head of School at Northstar Academy.
REAP offers comprehensive training with many transferable skills to equip their participants with the training and experience they need for employment in the community or through one of their employment programs. The training includes computer training, inventory management with scanning system, timekeeping, website storefront and cash register system. Working with schools, the Retail Merchants Association and other local business partners provide skills training to prepare participants for employment. They have trained over 100 participants.
“We are preparing people for more than entry level positions.” comments Karen Hammond, Executive Director of REAP.
REAP’s integrated computer software package also provides skills tracking and productivity metrics for each participant. This system will demonstrate people’s accomplishments and provide an accurate report of their skills to a prospective employer. Their job training also teaches participants that every person has value and worth and when we work together everyone benefits.
Did You Know?
The unemployment rate for adults with a disability is close to 50% higher than that for adults without a disability (2009 U.S. Department of Labor Report).
The Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services developed 8,898 individual employment plans for 2012, but only 3,390 were able to find employment (VA DRS 2010 Annual Report).
Among college graduates, 43% of college graduates with a disability were unemployed compared to 18% of their non-disabled peers (2008 Cornel Unemployment Study).
Help REAP the Benefits
A commitment from corporations, businesses, churches and other service organizations is critical to the success of REAP. REAP has established two businesses for the sole purpose of providing job-skills training, while also providing a mentored working environment. Here is how you can help REAP continue their mission in the community:
- Help share the news about REAP and increase awareness of the need to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities
- Become a REAP Ambassador. Periodically, ambassadors will receive REAP news, which you can share with your friends and family and possible stakeholders in the community
- Order gift baskets for you and your employees, vendors, teachers, secretaries, mail carriers, bus drivers, or holiday gift giving
- Contract Heart to Heartto assemble your promotional packages, event packages, gift bags, etc. for your business
- Host a gift basket sale at your business, school, service club meeting/event or invite us to participate in your vendor fair
- Volunteer to assist individuals with disabilities assemble gift baskets
- Donate items to include in the gift baskets given to veterans
Heart to Heart Gift Baskets & Packaging (H2H)
Heart to Heart Gift Baskets provides custom designed gift baskets (and other items) that are unique, top quality, and price competitive gifts for all occasions.
REAP chose to start a gift basket business for two reasons. First, the production process provides the opportunity to teach many different skills. Everyone, 100% of their participants have increased their skills and abilities. They have been able to find their niche in the process which allows each person to make a contribution to the finished product.
Heart to Heart Gift Baskets Video
“Leigh always enjoys working at Heart to Heart on Wednesday afternoons,” says Janet and Tom Schleichler, parents of Leigh Schleicher who is a REAP program participant. “We appreciate this opportunity for her to develop marketable skills, and this activity gives her a sense of accomplishment.”
“I like to sort, and fill gift baskets.” says Leigh. “I am proud of my work.”
Secondly, the beautiful baskets and gift items help tell the story of the talents and abilities of their participants. Their goal has always been to produce products that exceed expectations so that when people see them they pause, notice and think about individuals with disabilities in a new way.
Their products make great corporate, incentive, referral and customer appreciation gifts. They can customize our gifts with company promotional materials or design a new product for our clients.
As an employee benefit, they can even offer an online sale on their eStore with free delivery to the business and/or they can bring a Heart to Heart Gift Basket sale to their company.
Faith-Based and Community Events
They hold Heart to Heart Gift Basket Sales at churches on weekends. Many churches purchase gifts for use in their ministries. Their senior gift program is one example.
Heart to Heart donates a custom-made gift basket to 3 charities each month.
Project Give to Our Military and Their Families
Their goal is to give a gift 4-6 times a year to all patients at the VA Hospital and families staying at the Fisher House.
Gifts for Grandma and Grandpa, too!
Initially started to provide gifts to people in nursing homes and senior communities for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, this is developing into a year-round program.
New 2 U Sports sells donated new and gently used sports equipment. It is cost effective because it utilizes the donation of sports equipment from individuals and organizations and turns those donated items into valuable commodities. REAP expects this business to have a positive impact on the economy of the Richmond community. New 2 U Sports provides a local, convenient outlet, where adults and children can purchase gently used sports equipment. The appeal is greatly reduced prices, the positive association with recycling and sustainability, and the support for individuals with disabilities.
New 2 U Sports has a small retail shop at REAP’s production site. Management of the store, collection/sorting/cleaning/storing of donated materials, stocking shelves, facility maintenance, marketing, pricing and sales would be the primary activities of this business. Computer training with data entry will also be taught for those working on the eStore. Job training and job coaching services are provided for every individual with disabilities employed at New 2 U Sports. In keeping with the integrity of REAP’s mission they utilize “green” cleaning agents in the cleaning/ processing of all their merchandise. New 2 U Sports is committed to safe operations and best practices in employment and quality services.
New 2 U Sports will partner with local parks and recreation departments and athletic leagues to host sales at their facilities; making it convenient for families to take advantage of this opportunity.
Heart to Heart Arts & Craft Show and Silent Auction
Saturday, February 15, 2014
St. Michael Catholic Church (4491 Springfield Road, Glen Allen, VA 23060)
6:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
“This is a friend raising and fund raising event for REAP, in that order.” comments Hannon, Executive Director of REAP. “The primary goal is to highlight the talents of individuals with disabilities and to give them a place to sell their work. People will be amazed, and we hope they walk away with a new way of interacting with people with disabilities.”
For more information on how you can make a difference and partner with REAP, please visit: www.reapva.org
The bottom line is jobs. Everyone wants to work. Supporting REAP and their businesses will provide job training and employment for all of their participants. REAP will continue to work with business, faith-based and community organizations and individuals to provide training, resources, and skills to future and current graduates. They will continue to work with businesses and local partners to engage the community in the opportunities that REAP provides… providing real jobs and futures.