NextStep for Life® in Arnold Finds Jobs for People with Disabilities
Hundreds now pursuing The American Dream thanks to work by not-for-profit agency
Imagine a person with a disability buying a car and a house after landing a good job and saving their money.
That occurrence is not as rare as you may think.
The not-for-profit NextStep for Life – Employment Services agency is helping hundreds of people with disabilities get paying jobs and pursue The American Dream.
Not all are buying cars and houses just yet, but quality of life, independence and pride have boosted amazingly ever since NextStep for Life helped them find work – and in many cases grow into a good-paying career.
Annette Kendrick is Director of NextStep for Life – Employment Services. She is a University of Missouri graduate who worked at MERS Missouri Goodwill Industries before joining NextStep in 1996 as a case manager. Kendrick was named Director of Employment Services in 2003. A member of her family is a person with developmental disabilities.
“Our goal at NextStep for Life – Employment Services is to get people with disabilities employed in the community. We do that with a variety of different services. We are known as a Community Rehab Provider, meaning that we help the individuals we serve prepare for seeking employment and we help them find it. We guide and coach them throughout the process of landing a suitable job and beyond.”
“We typically serve between 160 and 180 new people a year,” Kendrick says, “and we continue to work with individuals from the age of 16 until they want to stop working, which in some cases, is many years.”
“About 50 percent of the new individuals that we serve each year are 18 to 22 years old. In any year we also work with more than 300 individuals who are in our ‘Long Term Follow Along,’ which means they have gotten a job and we continue to support and counsel them for the life of their job.”
Many Good Employers in Arnold
The City of Arnold is fertile ground for employing job candidates from NextStep for Life. “Many partner companies in Arnold employ our individuals on a regular basis,” Kendrick says. “A few of them are Denny’s, Dierberg’s, Lowe’s, Pasta House and Schnucks Markets, among others.”
“For the individuals we serve, what we do is life changing. We recently presented Pasta House with our Outstanding Community Partner Award; the company currently employs five of our people,” Kendrick says.
Kendrick and her staff work from small headquarters at 12 Municipal Drive just off Missouri Route 141. It is one of five service programs operated by the NextStep for Life® organization, a registered 501(c)(3) charitable enterprise in Jefferson County.
Kendrick’s staff currently numbers 19 full-time and 11 part-time members, plus four additional part-timers in summer. Most staff members earned college or community college degrees specializing in family services, human development, social services and related disciplines.
NextStep case managers and job developers help job-seekers plan and strategize their job goals; develop resumes; fill out online job applications; participate in mock interviews and job readiness training plus related activities. Job coaching by NextStep staff occurs on specific job sites to help newly hired employees acclimate to their new positions.
“Every single full-time staff member in our office is cross-trained for different responsibilities and services that we provide – from staff members who greet you when you walk in the door to myself,” Kendrick asserts.
“Every one of us carries a caseload. For example, I am also a job coach. In addition, I take assessments of individuals who come to us for assistance. Any task that I ask my staff members to do I have done myself many, many times and I will continue to do that whenever needs arise as our activities ebb and flow.”
“In a given month we may have 25 individuals who recently got a job and they all need job coaching by us. We want those people to be successful – it takes virtually everyone here to visit the job location to coach them. We are proud to provide high levels of service to our job seekers and companies that hire them.”
Tim Bommarito is Next Step for Life’s Director of Marketing & Development. He earned a B.S. from Saint Louis University and worked as NextStep’s Employment Services Development Specialist for three years before moving into his current role. A member of his family is a person with developmental disabilities.
“NextStep for Life was founded in 1980,” Bommarito says. “In the late 1960s, Missouri legislation allowed counties to establish a tax to develop and expand support services for people with developmental disabilities. In 1978, Jefferson County voters established the Jefferson County Developmental Disabilities Resource Board (JCDDRB), now known as Developmental Disability Advocates.”
“There were no service providers for people with developmental disabilities in Jefferson County at that time,” Bommarito explains. “In 1980, JCDDRB established a non-profit corporation named Exceptional Ones, Inc., which became Developmental Services of Jefferson County (DSJC) in 1991. The Employment Services office opened on Jeffco Boulevard in 1998 and moved to 12 Municipal Drive in 2003. DSJC was renamed NextStep for Life in August 2010. Our organization was named a ‘Top Workplace’ by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for six consecutive years (2013-2018).”
Starting last January, NextStep for Life – Employment Services had placed 96 individuals in paying jobs by December 15, 2018, and anticipated 100 placements by year end. In 2017, the service placed 118 individuals in paying jobs.
“Many individuals who started as dishwashers or table bussers or in entry-level jobs at restaurants or retailers have been promoted to better-paying jobs where they work, such as to cooks and hostesses,” Kendrick says. “After a few years many have moved to jobs with higher pay and benefits at different organizations.”
NGA Job with Security Clearance
One young man that NextStep placed in a Walmart job several years ago now works at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) – the government agency that provides classified data to policymakers, intelligence professionals, military, and first responders from facilities in Arnold. He worked as a landscaper for $14 per hour on NGA’s campus after gaining his security clearance, then was promoted to a transporter. He now makes $17 per hour and also has NGA health and insurance benefits.
Another young man that Kendrick helped place in a factory job wanted to buy a house so his mother, sick with cancer, could have a home. After working and saving money for years, “He recently stopped by our office to tell us that he bought a house and that his mother is living there with him,” Kendrick says.
In addition, a NextStep job veteran who moved on to another position at a Christian food pantry after some years bought a car, a condominium, and leads a very happy life. “We don’t place our individuals in any job so that they can simply have a job and get paid – we place them in jobs that are a good match for them so that they can have long-term success,” says Kendrick.
Bommarito and Kendrick say NextStep strives to work with as many people with disabilities as possible to provide lifestyle and work options and supportive services to improve quality of life, build pride, and boost self-respect for the individuals involved.
“We want to help them live the American Dream of finding a job, paying their bills, spending their money in their community, and enjoying life,” Kendrick asserts.
One individual says of her experience in the NextStep summer program, “I learned that I can move to different job roles and have found my strengths for each one. I learned how to work with different personality types and which ones I seem to mesh best with. I learned that I have to go to work when it’s a beautiful day and I would rather be doing something else, but at the end of the day it feels good to have gotten the job done.”
NextStep for Life receives referrals from the Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation division of the Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education. The Vocational Rehabilitation division has 25 district offices in Missouri – five of them serve metro St. Louis, including Arnold.
Story by Jeff Dunlap for the City of Arnold