The story of Jean Blachowski's son exemplifies the governor’s job training initiative to expand real-work job placement for Ohioans with developmental disabilities.
Instead of working in a sheltered workshop, her autistic son, Tommy Blachowski, 26, works as a cook for a sports bar-and-grill chain, a position he earned after attending the culinary arts program at Clay High School.
“The growth he has seen since he has been at Buffalo Wild Wings is absolutely amazing. He now has the confidence and independence to do things on his own,” said Mrs. Blachowski.
She credits teachers at the high school and staff at the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, which has supported her son since he was 3, for providing him with the skills and training to integrate into the community work force.
She was among the people who spoke Tuesday at a news conference announcing that the developmental-disabilities agency was among seven in the state awarded a grant to help in the training and community job placement for people with disabilities.
For being selected as a model in the program, the agency will be allowed to tap into a $7 million pool of state and federal money set aside to support training and employment efforts. Locally, 73 county residents who are developmentally disabled will get help through the program to transition into the private work force.
"We put a high standard on helping people to become integrated into our community, included in our community, having opportunities to find housing, find social things to do, and, of course, find employment," said John Trunk, superintendent of the Lucas County Developmental Disabilities agency.
John Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, said the county agency has a good record for employing people with conditions including cerebral palsy and autism.
"You are in the top quarter of all counties in the state in terms of getting people employed in community settings. You are one of the highest-ranked urban district in terms of success rates of getting people employed in the state," Mr. Martin said.
Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order on March 19, 2012, creating the Employment First Taskforce to establish and oversee the program that is designed to urge case managers to first look to a job placement in a business rather than turning to more typical sheltered workshop environments, where nearly all the employees are disabled.
The policy puts the Department of Developmental Disabilities in charge of the taskforce, which includes the state departments of Mental Health, Education, and Rehabilitation Services Commission and school districts.
“The goal of the Employment First Initiative is to increase opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities to find meaningful, integrated employment that helps people earn an income at or above minimum wage,” Mr. Trunk said.
Mr. Blachowski of Oregon, who speaks very little and only to those with whom he is comfortable, works at the Buffalo Wild Wing locations in Sylvania Township and Oregon. He also has a seasonal job at Haunted Hydro in Fremont, where he dons makeup to scare visitors at the Halloween attraction.
“It is just amazing to watch the interaction and the friendship he is building with the people in the community,” she said.
The Toledo Mudhens and ProMedica were singled out for efforts to employ people with developmental disabilities.
Chase Canfield, senior vice president of human resources, said the hospital system has six people with developmentally disabilities on its staff at three facilities.
He said providing meaningful employment opportunities is one way the hospital system can improve the health and well-being of the community.
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