Richmond Customized Employment Project:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts
Grant name, number, and location: Richmond Customized Employment Project, Richmond VA, #E-9-4-2-0095
Grant recipient: Training and Workforce Corporation (WIB and One-Stop Operator)
Project lead: Richmond Career Advancement Center (One-Stop)
Subcontractors: Virginia Commonwealth University (training and technical assistance), Richmond Area Public Schools, Virginia Business Leadership Network, Goodwill Industries, United Way (a facilitator of PATH planning and parental involvement), Division of Rehabilitative Services (jointly funded a navigator position and a youth transition project)
- Time to learn about other systems is essential to building partnerships.
- Accurate statistical information on potential shared customer groups is a primary foundation of strong agreements.
- Seed funding from grants can create the priority for systems to fund positions and projects.
The Richmond Career Advancement Center, the primary grant recipient, formed many significant partnerships through the efforts of this grant. Partners included Goodwill, United Way, the state Business Leadership Network, the Richmond Public School system, Virginia Commonwealth University, numerous individual parents and parent groups, and the Division of Rehabilitative Services. As is common with most grants, the project became an entity unto itself whose primary efforts aimed to coordinate the larger movements of collaborators and partners, including the One-Stop.
Department of Rehabilitative Services
Throughout, the Division of Rehabilitative Services (DRS) was among the project's most significant and complex partners. Through its partnership with the DRS and others, the Richmond Customized Employment Project accomplished numerous important goals, including consistent co-enrollment for youth and adult customers (after which DRS determined eligibility based on the state's order of selection), shared individual and programmatic funding, collaboration around the local Workforce Investment Grant navigator project, co-located staffing, and ongoing participation in cross-planning.
Richmond Career Advancement Center's partnership with DRS was an essential source of support and direction in the center's work with youth with disabilities. However, it met many policy and practical barriers. The two systems felt that they had contradictory missions at the very heart of their activities. As a One-Stop, the Career Advancement Center was slotted to serve any job seeker in Richmond. Although eligibility rules applied for most or all intensive projects, the center's general approach was to presume eligibility and offer as wide a range of services to each person as possible. Conversely, DRS was required to serve a specific population that was arguably overlooked by most other funding and service sources. Thus sharing funding entailed confronting this essential issue and ensuring that both systems' customers were served fairly.
Numerous barriers were surmounted to build an MOU between Richmond Career Advancement Center and DRS, most concerning the difficulty of communicating priorities to each other. Two simple but essential steps overcame this problem. The first was time, and the slow process of building familiarity between the two systems. As each side came to understand the other, reflexive issues of territoriality and mistrust faded away, and staff addressed the real substance at hand. Secondly, documentation was collected and presented to show the high percentage of students with disabilities (over 60%) who participated in the school transition project with the Richmond Public Schools that was a cornerstone of this project. It is important to recognize that the second point would not have occurred, or would not have been equally effective, without the time applied to understanding the partner systems. By better understanding the priorities of DRS, project staff could collect data that made sense to both systems and allowed each to focus on its own priorities while not compromising each other's activities.
The structured time that partners spent planning and attending ongoing formal meetings was a large part of the success of these partnerships. Where many projects either loosely defined their partnership, or created a system where partners regularly "handed off" activities to one another (referral to job development, job coaching, etc.), in this case partners were jointly involved in each major activity, and worked closely to accomplish their agreed-upon goals. Although they hit many barriers, the frequent joint activity and ample time provided for collaborative strategizing allowed the project and its partners to work well together.
The You WIN Youth Transition Project
The Youth Workforce Investment Network transition project (You WIN) with the Richmond Public Schools was a major facet of this partnership, and a large piece of the grant's activities as well (click here for more information). The One-Stop participated as a key partner in many youth-based activities (none of them exclusively disability-oriented) including mentorship, job shadowing, internships, and a large youth resource-mapping project. The Richmond Public Schools was a key collaborator as both a referral source and a coordinator of direct youth services. The Customized Employment grant expanded the scope of these various projects to offer more to students with disabilities, and to customize the services offered as needed.
DRS funding allowed the Richmond Career Advancement Center to bolster its services in this regard and to better accommodate the 60% of youth project participants who were thought to have some sort of disability. This strong three-way partnership also gave students a sense of a cogent transition into an array of services, not just transition-by-referral to DRS and a possible waiting list.
The project provided:
- Work-based mentorship by local businesspeople for youth with significant barriers.
- A career club for youth with and without disabilities in collaboration with WIA Youth, AmeriCorps, the Richmond Customized Employment project, and DRS that also provided widely varied job shadowing opportunities and internships.
- An opportunity for youth with and without disabilities to lead a summer-long, citywide resource mapping project that detailed every business and organization in the community, and gave youth the opportunity to become acquainted with them.
- A young professionals group for older youth with and without disabilities who were out of school and needed further assistance acquiring work.
- A youth job fair in collaboration with the Business Leadership Network and the WIA youth project that was attended by 30 businesses and 165 youth.
- A collaboration between the Virginia Commonwealth University RRTC, the Richmond Customized Employment project, the One-Stop, and the Virginia Business Leadership Network that provided mentorship for college students with disabilities.
Richmond Public Schools
As a result of these partnerships, the Richmond Public Schools significantly transformed its resources for students with disabilities and other considerations. In addition to hiring a transition specialist whose salary was initially provided by grant funding, the district put over $50,000 into a revised assessment lab and assistive technology center for students.
Many of these gains on the part of the Richmond Public Schools were influenced by the Customized Employment project but no longer depended on its funds and thus were not affected when the grant ended. The most important element of the school's activities that had to be maintained was the relationship to the One-Stop, which was likely to continue given the breadth of successful collaborative activities. The recently completed MOU between the Richmond Public Schools, DRS, and Richmond Career Advancement Center suggested this collaboration would persist for the foreseeable future. The actual language of the MOU was being finalized as this report was being submitted. The language will be submitted upon its completion.
Virginia Business Leadership Network
The Richmond Career Advancement Center also subcontracted with the Virginia Business Leadership Network (see website at www.vabln.org), primarily as a means to reach businesses and support the mentoring piece of You WIN. Business Leadership Networks are active in most states in various capacities, typically as forums where businesses can come together with disability service providers to exchange ideas and concerns. SunTrust Bank was a major supporter of the Virginia Business Leadership Network and of the project. The bank provided extensive in-kind support, including office space and supplies, meeting space, and a space to host major events within their main office buildings. While it was anticipated that the Virginia Business Leadership Network position would continue after the grant based on SunTrust funding, it was unlikely to remain focused on partnering with the Richmond Career Advancement Center.
The partnership between the Business Leadership Network and the Richmond Career Advancement Center faltered significantly in the One-Stop's ongoing attempt to create a robust business services team. A potential business outreach team model might have included a broad array of community partners, all performing outreach and marketing to businesses under a single aegis. As such, the Virginia Business Leadership Network would have been an ideal foundational partner in this effort, as their primary charter was business outreach. However, although this was a clear juncture where the two organizations could work well together, perhaps even including the Virginia Business Leadership Network in planning and implementing the business outreach model, there ended up being very little contact between the two organizations on this point. This seemed like an important missed opportunity for both organizations, as collaboration at the early design stage of the business outreach model would have been most advantageous.
Virginia Commonwealth University
Partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University was again based on a subcontract, though it could well have a more lasting impact. In the course of its work, Virginia Commonwealth University developed a series of online courses on Customized Employment services specifically for use by One-Stop staff. The courses included methods of systemic collaboration and person-centered career planning. Plans were in place for these resources to remain after the grant ended regardless of the likely termination of the subcontract with Virginia Commonwealth University. All One-Stop staff and mangers would be exposed to at least the basic courses in this series, with the option to see them in their entirety.
The partnership with Untied Way was also initiated on the basis of a subcontract from the grant but resulted in a long-term resource for both organizations. Initially, a bilingual resource specialist was hired for individuals with disabilities and others with significant barriers. As a resource for translation and specific outreach, this position helped the Richmond Career Advancement Center and the Customized Employment project bridge the gap with the Hispanic community and helped them through significant cultural differences on the subject. This position was key given the area's very large Spanish-speaking population, particularly in its schools and workforce system. In its time working under the grant, this position translated resource guides and other important documents for Spanish-speaking customers.
Knowing the need to maintain this resource for the community, United Way recently took on the responsibility of funding this position entirely. Talks were continuing between the Richmond Career Advancement Center and United Way to determine how this position's time would be shared, and what its role would be as the project expired.