Crossroads of Western Iowa comes to a crossroads
New program integrates Crossroads clients through volunteering
By: JESUSA CHRISTIANS
Feb 15, 2018
MISSOURI VALLEY, IOWA
The new year is bringing some changes to the community of Missouri Valley. One particular change that is taking place is the closing of Crossroads of Western Iowa’s Workshop in Missouri Valley.
According to a Crossroads of Western Iowa press release, Crossroads program clients have gained real work experience through the Workshop while providing a structured environment and staff support in reaching their goals.
“Unfortunately, this service no longer meets the Federal Guidelines for integration,” stated the press release. “Organizations are being held to a higher standard of integration, and it is the responsibility of Crossroads to make sure their services meet those standards.”
As a result, the Workshop in Missouri Valley closed Dec. 31, 2017.
Clint Sargent, Program Director of Employment Services at Crossroads of Western Iowa, was at the Dec. 18, 2017, Missouri Valley School Board meeting and discussed the transition at Crossroads with the school board.
“When we started the work center just a few years ago, we had 80 to 90 individuals attending on a daily basis, and now we have 15,” said Sargent. “Where did they go? Well, they are working in the community, and they are earning wages to the point where they are bringing down less Social Security as income support because of those additional wages. They are leading a more meaningful life and are more productive through more meaningful work.”
Crossroads staff has also been diligent in transitioning program clients from the workshop into other program areas. To better serve these clients, the Volunteer Leads to Employment program was introduced in the spring of 2017.
Through this program, clients will serve as volunteers at organizations in the community. The objective being to increase soft skills and experience with a goal to become competitively employed in integrated settings, which is what brought Sargent to the Dec. 18 school board meeting.
Missouri Valley Community School District Superintendent Brent Hoesing stated, “Crossroads came to us a couple times this fall and spoke to us about volunteer opportunities they are doing. Right now, they are in the Logan-Magnolia School District and trying to expand and are looking at Missouri Valley and West Harrison and some other area schools, an opportunity that benefits us and our local organization.”
Sargent explained that Crossroads became interested in the volunteering idea because of how services for Medicaid and services at the federal level work, as well as how the regulated changes for those services dictate how services are provided.
“It changes how states can deliver services or pay for those services for providers such as Crossroads, Mosaic, REM, Vodec, and any other agencies that you’ve probably heard of,” said Sargent. “It changes how those services are delivered in an integrated setting, so we are constantly under review by the state.”
Sargent explained that the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was passed by President Barack Obama in 2014.
“It assists folks with getting jobs, serving as a transitional tool to use from school into the workforce or for helping individuals who are 25 or older with transitioning into employment,” said Sargent, who went on to explain that the act puts a lot of restrictions on how to achieve that goal.
“For many years, the Missouri Valley School District sent folks to our work center down on the west end of town,” said Sargent, “but that changed in July 2016. We are looking at how we can continue providing services in an integrated setting. Some of you are aware of Share of the Ware. That’s a store operated and run by individuals that we serve in more of an integrated setting, but not truly defined as full integration, so we are continuing to evolve and look at services that we offer.”
Continued Sargent, “As Brent mentioned, we are at the Logan-Magnolia School District twice a week and also with the Logan Volunteer Fire Department. Also, starting on Wednesday (Dec. 20), we will be at the Mondamin Fire Department. We will also be starting at Westmont Care Center in Logan after the first of the year and also at serve at various places in Council Bluffs, such as several nursing homes, the Open Door Mission, and MOHMS Place where we help with mission and help prepare meals and various different things. It’s building life skills and development for individuals participating, but also a way for those individuals to give back to the community.”
Sargent explained that this is important because many individuals may be involved with Crossroads services their entire life, but may still be able to meaningfully assist or give back to the community.
“We are looking at some opportunity for individuals to come in and do some volunteering,” said Sargent. “Currently in Logan, individuals are volunteering in food service, assisting with custodial tasks, and volunteering in the library.”
Sargent shared that Crossroads agreed to pay for staff through revenues collected from Iowa Medicaid for those services, and that client volunteers are covered under Crossroads’ liability insurance. Crossroads had also agreed to pay for background checks.
Sargent was asked by the school board to explain the number of volunteers that would participate and how much staff per clients would participate. They also asked how students benefit from having this program in the school, and whether or not participating in this volunteer opportunity would prove more of a distraction than a benefit to the school district.
In response, Sargent said, “There are five individuals that go to Logan, and those individuals my vary depending on the day that they go. Right now, we have two groups that go out to different areas. Some may go to Logan and some over to the Open Door Mission or the library in Blair, Neb. We try to stay consistent with those individuals that are volunteering. We have a one-to-five ratio for the helpers per clients.”
Regarding the benefit to the school district, Sargent stated, “We are in an environment where disability education, no matter how we teach it, we talk to our children and talk to our other students, but there is still a stigma around it. As I look around, I see folks that might have a hearing or vision disability, which most of us are more familiar with, but few of us know about intellectual disabilities, which is what about what 70 percent of individuals that Crossroads serves. This volunteer opportunity provides disability education and really providing assistance to the school through various areas that could be assisted through volunteering such as food service, custodial, or library.”
Sargent reminded the board that Superintendent Hoesing had shared the importance of volunteers during times of budget constraints and with special events at the school.
High School Principal Kristi Kruckman asked about the district’s responsibility with things like paperwork, feedback, or evaluations.
“No paperwork,” assured Sargent, “but we will probably do surveys several times throughout the year. We will encourage feedback good or bad. In Harrison County, we have over 120 staff, and in the Harrison County market that includes our residential services, day programming, and employment services. (Crossroads) staff will transport and provide services, including lunch on site, occasionally, with the students. We are looking at starting around 9:00 to 9:15 and are considering all day attendance, but we will be flexible with hours to meet the needs of the school district.”
Kruckman stated that she thought it would be a good partnership.
“I’ve been one that has lived through having the workshop very accessible to the school and the kids as an employment training center to them, so I see the need for integrating into the community,” said Kruckman. “They are going to be a part of our community forever.”
School board member John Ferris voiced a concern about the distraction that participating in this volunteer opportunity could cause.
“If it were to be done, there should be a program in place, and I would like to see that the people are functioning at a high enough level so as not to be a distraction to the students,” said Ferris.
Ferris pointed out that the school district’s responsibility is to focus on providing instruction to the students, and if a wild card was thrown into the mix, how would that affect the school district as a whole? He added that the school board would have to look at the school’s custodial policy if the volunteers were integrated into the custodial department.
Superintendent Hoesing replied, “As a school district, we are suppose to be a pillar of our community, and as a pillar, we rely on others to help hold us up and there are times we need to hold up others. I think this is a great situation where, as a school district, we have the opportunity to really support those who are in our community and those patrons and organizations in our community that rely on us. They are performing a benefit to us. It is not as if we are getting nothing out of the agreement. I think it shows our willingness to reach out to organizations that we don’t necessarily see as having direct impact to our school district.”
Hoesing commented that, in his opinion, it is not really about what you were benefitting from, but about being supportive of the community as a whole.
“We have to be able to support each other,” said Hoesing. “From what I am understanding, the majority of the volunteering individuals coming to us will not be in the classroom, and the majority of learning is done in a classroom setting, So, the chance for distraction is very minimal if they are going to be out in the hallway and cafeteria. So, to me, the distraction piece is very minimal.”
Hoesing stated that he had already talked with Logan-Magnolia’s superintendent and principal to get their feedback about the program in their school. They told him it was not a distraction and that the volunteers just kind of blended in with everyone else, but missed them when they were not around. He said Logan-Magnolia is open to going from two days a week to five days a week with the program.
“If you ask me, I don’t think we really need the help as much as we need to build partnerships,” said Hoesing. “I think it’s a win-win. I think it may take some time for us to see benefits on our part. It’s not going to be as immediate as the benefit on their part, but I think that’s okay.”
Sargent pointed out that Corporate America is recognizing how people with disabilities are making major impact on their businesses and the tech world is actively recruiting people with autism. He stated that it is shown that in many cases it is having a positive impact on business’ bottom line because many times they can make higher paid staff more productive by transitioning duties that are slowing them down and having the employees with disabilities do them.
“It’s a different world we are in,” said Sargent, “especially if you looked at the unemployment rate where it’s pretty tough to hire folks. Last year, we placed 70 folks into community jobs, and 25 percent of those were federal poverty level, which is $12,000 and change. Doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but now they are paying Social Security tax and some other things and not collecting that Social Security income, and they can have a more positive overall life.
“We have a former student who is a huge success story,” continued Sargent. “He is a graduate of Missouri Valley who loves football and comes back for games. He lives out in Council Bluffs and works 40 hours a week. He is doing tremendous, and his goal is to get off benefits.”
At the conclusion of Sargent’s presentation, the school board voted to approve a Memorandum of Understanding with Crossroads of Western Iowa to participate in the Volunteer Leads to Employment program.
“The decision to close the workshop did not come easily, but at the heart of everything we do is each of the clients we serve. Because of this, we will continue to carry out our mission to empower them for an enhanced quality of life through Volunteer Leads to Employment, LINKS, Share the Ware, and the other programs that we offer,” said Sargent.
For over 40 years, Crossroads of Western Iowa has been a trusted partner for families of individuals with disabilities. Today, the Mission of Crossroads touches the lives of more than 500 individuals, their families, and their communities through residential, work, and day services. Each of its service programs is in place to carry out and support Crossroads’ mission through quality outcomes that directly impact its clients in an effort for them to lead productive lives.
For more information, contact Clint Sargent at firstname.lastname@example.org or 712-256-3956.
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