Monday, August 21, 2017
Mosaic in Northern Iowa

Got lemons? Make lemonade.

That was the attitude of Mosaic staff in Forest City, Iowa, when they learned that funding would be cut in half for the pre-vocational services offered through a Mosaic-run thrift store called Krysmart. It was an opportunity to re-think services and change direction.

The store, a community fixture for more than two decades, would be closed. Eleven people with disabilities who worked there would lose their jobs because the state classified it as a “sheltered workshop.” Sheltered workshops were once considered leading-edge practice to give people work. But across the country, they are being phased out so that people can participate in more integrated environments. 

“When we visited with people who worked there (Krysmart), they were sad and didn’t know what they were going to do for employment,” said Tasha Ludwig, the Associate Director at Mosaic in Forest City. “For many it was the only job they’d ever known.”

This is when Mosaic staff helped turn lemons into lemonade: since Mosaic could no longer provide jobs in its own program, they’d help people find jobs in the community. Now several of the people who worked at the thrift store are either working on their own or with the assistance of a job coach at various places, from colleges to retail settings. They’re meeting new people. They’re making friends.

“They get to meet new people in the community, working with people and developing natural supports,” Ludwig said. “The last 10 years they didn’t have the choices that they do now.”

Other things about community employment excite them as well. One gentleman works at a community college and gets free tickets to some of the games. Another works at Waldorf College and, for the first time in his life, received a Christmas bonus.

“Now they see the benefits,” Ludwig said. “If Krysmart would have not closed, we would not have anyone looking for employment in the community.

“The best thing about it is seeing that people have a sense of self, a sense of worth. They get excited about going to work, earning their paycheck. They’re making a difference outside of Mosaic. 

The future of services for people with disabilities will look different from the past in many ways. Removing any label on people is a great start.