The majority of Americans with disabilities are striving to work, according to the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment & Disability Survey. The Foundation supports their efforts through a continuum of research and grant making. Scientists study ways to restore function after serious illness or injury, as well as ways to facilitate return to active participation in school, the community, and the workplace. The Foundation’s grant making encourages creative solutions to help people with disabilities overcome obstacles to success in the workplace.
Since 2005, the Foundation's targeted grant making of more than $36 million has connected more than 10,000 individuals with disabilities with competitive employment. Funded initiatives across the U.S. are transitioning increasing numbers of people to the workplace. This report highlights Foundation grantees in Pittsburgh and the D.C. area, as well as here in New Jersey, whose programs are expanding employment for students, veterans and artists with disabilities.
Ensuring the Impact of Grantmaking
Each year, the Foundation invites grantees to a half-day symposium with presentations from experts in the field. In 2016, the topic was, “How to Use Data to Drive Evaluation and Improve Employment Practices and Outcomes.”
Kessler Foundation’s 2016 Grantee Symposium
PODCAST: “Why Quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection is Important to Help Measure the Success of Your Organization”. Participants include: CarolAnn Murphy, Elaine Katz, Kathy Krepcio, Ryan Aldrich, and Kevin Nickerson
PODCAST: 11th Annual Symposium for Grantees
How to Use Data to Drive Evaluation and Improve Employment Practices and Outcomes "Employment Data Can Strengthen Your Practice" - presented by Kathy Krepcio
In 2016, Kessler Foundation was honored to receive the John J. Heldrich Award for Distinguished Leadership at the Center’s 20th Anniversary Gala. The Foundation was recognized for its commitment and national leadership in helping change the lives of people with disabilities through competitive employment.
To ensure that we invest wisely and well into the future of people with disabilities, Kessler Foundation partners with the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. The Center helps us to document the strategies that work, determine how to intervene with projects that face challenges, and develop best practices.
PODCAST: 2016 Employer Recognition Breakfast
Elaine Katz, Senior VP of Grants and Communications at Kessler Foundation, Keynote speaker at the Employer Recognition Breakfast Hosted by The Essex County & Newark Workforce Development Boards’ Disability Issues Committee
Elaine E. Katz, MS, CCC-SLP,
Senior Vice President of Grants
Impact on the National Level
For our major national awards, called Signature Employment Grants, we prioritize innovative programs that have the potential to be replicated and scaled for even greater impact. Two Signature grantees that have leveraged our funding to create promising models for employment are United Way of Allegheny County (UWAC), in Pittsburgh, PA, and Easter Seals Greater Washington Baltimore Region.
Transitioning Youth from
School to the Workplace
Many employment and vocational programs for youth with disabilities focus on job readiness and skills training, with lesser emphasis on achieving transition from school to the workplace. In Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, for example, approximately 40 percent of students with disabilities leave high school without employment or post-secondary education or training. In 2014, Kessler Foundation awarded a $378,300 Signature Employment Grant to UWAC to expand their pilot program, 21 and Able, an initiative that effectively engages employers with students with disabilities. As a result, 161 young people have been placed in jobs that pay an average of $25 an hour.
UWAC piloted 21 and Able with supermarket chain Giant Eagle; Kessler Foundation funded the scaled up project to include the University of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Preliminary data for these two employers alone indicate that the estimated economic impact in 2016 was $1.1 million in salaries and benefits.
Recently, two more employers have partnered with 21 and Able, The City of Pittsburgh and the delivery services giant FedEx Ground, showing that this model can be replicated and scaled to address the needs of employers. UWAC and its business collaborators are working toward sustainability by reducing the need for external support.
Transitioning Veterans to
the Civilian Workforce
Adjusting to civilian life and finding employment is difficult for veterans, and it’s even more challenging for veterans with disabilities. In 2014, Kessler Foundation awarded a two-year, $412,000 Signature Employment Grant to Easter Seals Greater Washington Baltimore Region in 2014 to expand their social enterprise, the Veteran Staffing Network (VSN)—a placement agency for veterans and their spouses. VSN maintains connections with a wide range of U.S. companies that offer permanent positions, contract jobs, and temporary to permanent assignments. The Foundation grant supports services for veterans with disabilities – approximately 24% of VSN’s clients. Easter Seals has successfully leveraged the Foundation’s grant for almost $6 million in additional funding.
Through 2016, VSN has placed more than 240 veterans with disabilities and their spouses in permanent, career-track jobs totalling more than $8 million a year in wages. Nearly 1,000 veterans have had job coaching, including 150 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. VSN has surpassed its goals, attaining an estimated $4.6 million in economic impact.
VIDEO: Easter Seals Employment Programs for Veterans
PODCAST: Larry Bram and Nathaniel Corbin from Easter Seals presents at our Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, May 13, 2016 and share how funding from Kessler Foundation impacts US veterans and their families.
Impact in the Community
Our Community Employment Grants have funded hundreds of nonprofit organizations that advance job training and employment opportunities for New Jersey residents with disabilities. Here we highlight the impact of a novel program that connects art buyers with artists with disabilities, a local nonprofit that has expanded its services for veterans nationwide, and an adaptive sports team that has achieved success nationally and internationally.
Transitioning Youth Rewarding the Talents of Artists with Disabilities from School to the Workplace
In 2015, Matheny School & Hospital’s Art Access, in partnership with Arts Unbound in Orange, NJ, launched a new venture based on the Community Supported Art (CSA) model, called Art Garden CSA., Buyers pre-purchase shares of original art from artists with disabilities. Participating artists gain the opportunity to further their careers while establishing an ongoing means of generating income. So far, 20 local artists have gained access to interested buyers.
Meet the artists and view their beautiful artwork.
Partnering to Help
Elaine Katz received the inaugural Jackson Drysdale Civilian of the Year award at the GI Go Fund’s 2016 Veterans Day Gala in Newark.
The GI Go Fund, a New Jersey-based nonprofit, reaches out into the community to address veterans’ needs for comprehensive services, including jobs. Through partnerships with major corporations and seed funding from Kessler Foundation, 50 veterans with disabilities were placed in home-based customer service positions through their Disabled Veterans to Work Program. This Program has been replicated on cities across the U.S., extending the impact of the Foundation’s funding.
North Jersey Navigators Bring Home the Paralympic Gold
(and Bronze, too!)
Special Initiative Grants fund an array of community-based programs that improve the lives of people with disabilities in New Jersey. One of our grantees, the North Jersey Navigators, achieved international success at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, which attracted record numbers of attendees and viewers. The Navigators, a competitive adaptive sports team based in Jersey City, has received Foundation funding for the past 14 years. According to Coach Jimmy Cuevas, young team members learn how participating in sports and living a healthy lifestyle can have a profoundly positive impact on their lives.
Team member Gianfranco Iannotta won the gold medal in the 100-meter T52, and the bronze in the 400-meter competition at the. His victories follow those of teammate Raymond Martin, who scored four gold medals at the 2012 London Paralympics. Iannotta proudly displayed his medals at Kessler Foundation’s Employee Communications Meeting last fall, where he was the featured speaker.
VIDEO: Gianfranco Iannotta and Raymond Martin at the RIO 2016 Paralympic Games