BEACON Program lauded as key to integrating clients into work settings
Job fairs, especially in today’s trying economy, typically involve long lines of nervous job seekers hoping to catch the eye of a prospective employer.
A career day held last week at Portal Inc. in Grafton offered a slight variation on that theme, with clients and employers touting the benefits of a unique job-matching program for members of the Port Washington-Saukville Rotary Club and the board of United Way of Northern Ozaukee.
The focus of the presentations was success stories from Portal’s BEACON (Building Employment and Opportunities Network) Program.
The impetus for BEACON came from start-up funding offered through a community impact grant from United Way of Northern Ozaukee.
Portal formerly placed most of its emphasis on providing a sheltered workshop for Ozaukee County residents with developmental disabilities.
Although those contracts with outside industries remain a component of the agency’s business, a growing facet of its work lies in training clients for jobs in the workplace.
Officials explained that the goal of BEACON is to provide opportunities to experience the world of employment and gain familiarity with community employment options.
That push started in 2008, and today Portal assists 110 individuals with employment goals, working with 85 businesses throughout the county.
Portal Executive Director Carole Stuebe explained that employment for her clients is just as essential as it is for the rest of the population.
“Work — for some of us, it defines who we are. When we meet someone new, they often ask ‘Where do your work? What do you do,’” Stuebe said.
“For others, it is the money we make from our jobs that allows us to buy what we need and what we want, or helps us reach our personal life goals.”
Stuebe said work is no less important for people with disabilities, even though their employment can pose some challenges.
Ultimately, she said the goal of Portal is to help clients become “valued neighbors, productive workers and respected citizens.”
Stuebe said the program offers real jobs at regular wages with support from the agency.
“Portal is also committed to advancing the economic solutions to businesses in Ozaukee County by doing business locally through access to the untapped workforce of youth and adults with disabilities,” Stuebe said.
“We do this by focusing on the needs, interests and abilities of both the employer and potential employee.”
Although their aspirations are often the same, Stuebe said, there are marked differences separating people with disabilities and the rest of the working world.
Nationally, a little more than 20% of the people with disabilities are in the labor force, compared to 70% without disabilities. The unemployment rate for those with disabilities yet want to work is 13.6%, compared to 8.4% for the rest of the workforce.
Of note for perspective employers, Stuebe said, a recent study showed 92% of consumers felt more favorably toward a business that hires individuals with disabilities and 87% said they would prefer to give their business to such companies.
According to statistics provided by Portal, the job-placement program has a 96% approval rating from participants and their families and a 97% approval rating from employers.
The career day session centered around a panel discussion involving clients and employers from the private and public sectors.
Taking part were representatives from the Village of Saukville’s Oscar Grady Library, Ozaukee County Clerk of Courts office, Port Washington State Bank, Aurora Medical Center in Grafton and Columbia St. Mary’s Ozaukee Hospital in Mequon.
Jen Gerber, director of the Oscar Grady Library, said Portal client Rebecca Roemer has proved to be a perfect fit while working as a page.
“She has developed the skills necessary for her job description and has done well. She shelves in almost all areas of the collection, asks staff for help when she needs it, and is friendly to the public,” Gerber said.
“She fits right in with the relaxed work environment of the library; she’s very social with her co-workers and she is very considerate and respectful. It really is a pleasure working with Rebecca, and I hope she enjoys the job as much as I enjoy having her on staff.”
Portal was started in 1965 by Ozaukee County ARC, a group of families of individuals with developmental disabilities and other concerned citizens.
Originally located in Saukville, Portal Programs Inc. moved to its current location on Cedar Creek Road in Grafton in 1974.
Its name was changed to Portal Industries, Inc. in 1982 and again revised to Portal, Inc. in 2009. The organization’s building was remodeled and expanded at its present location in 1990.
Image Information: PORTAL INC. EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Carole Stuebe introduced guests to the BEACON Program during last week’s Career Day. Panelists included Mark Schowalter of Port Washington State Bank, Jen Gerber of the Oscar Grady Library in Saukville, Ozaukee County Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller, Sue Meurer of Aurora Health Care and Gary Kroening of Columbia St. Mary’s Ozaukee Hospital. The panelists talked about how Portal clients in the BEACON Program have become valued employees. Photo by Mark Jaeger