Marsha Walker, 31, concentrates deeply as she scoops canned fruit cocktail into small plastic cups, places them in neat rows on a tray, snaps on lids and marks them with the date. It is a job she is proud of. In fact, it has changed her life.
"Marsha comes home from work excited and enthused, her eyes sparkling," said her mother, Madge Walker of Venice.
Until last November, when she was selected to fold gift boxes and make bows during the holidays at Nordstrom department store, Marsha Walker had been in sheltered schools and workshops most of her life. When the job ended, she was sent to Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, an Exceptional Children's Foundation job training site, where she works in the kitchen.
Walker, who has Down's syndrome, is one of 120 developmentally disabled adults the foundation has registered to participate in Project 2000, part of a 1984 Social Security Administration national research grant awarded to the Exceptional Children's Foundation, a nonprofit, state-funded and business-supported foundation for developmentally disabled children and adults.
L.A. One of Eight Sites
The goal of the 30-month, nationwide program is to place 500 developmentally disabled adults, ages 18 through 42, in permanent, unsubsidized employment by July, 1987. Los Angeles is one of eight sites in the United States being studied to determine whether specialized training in non-sheltered work settings will result in jobs for developmentally disabled individuals now receiving supplemental security income. SSI is a federal income maintenance program for the aged, blind and disabled who have little or no income or resources. Earnings and savings can jeopardize an eligible person's benefits, but Social Security is protecting the benefits of those in the study.
Although it is similar to programs that have been in place since the '70s, the Social Security-funded project is the largest research program involving developmentally disabled adults, with the largest control group for comparative study, said Craig Thornton, a senior economist who is directing the evaluation of the demonstration for Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, N.J.
Half the participants in the study are randomly selected for the control group by computer and receive no special treatment, while the other half receive job training and placement. Social Security will follow up on all participants for 10 years to assess results.
Start-Up Is Slow
The name Project 2000 was selected by the Exceptional Children's Foundation, which received a $450,000 grant from the Social Security Administration and has set its own goal of finding permanent employment for 2,000 developmentally disabled adults by the year 2000. Just past the program's halfway point, the foundation has found employment or placed in training programs 30 of the 75 people selected by the Social Security Administration. The goal is to register 150 people by the end of this month.
"It looks like a slow process, but just the start-up is slow," said Kim Swanson, a work adjustment specialist for Project 2000. "It has a snowball effect. In three or four months we'll be placing a lot more clients. Then we will be able to reach out and talk to a lot of people."
Among the Project 2000 participants are four in food service or linen supply training at Brotman Medical Center, two at UCLA in the mail room, one in a Sizzler restaurant, two at Nordstrom and two at the Marriott hotel in Marina del Rey.
There are 17 staff members working on Project 2000 including three job developers and six job coaches, most of them college graduates interested in working with the developmentally disabled.
One-on-one training is provided by coaches who accompany workers as long as the employer thinks it is necessary. During the first month of training, employers do not pay wages, although the foundation does. Employers are eligible for payroll tax deductions for hiring developmentally disabled employees. Pay which averages $1.50 an hour, is determined by the job coach based on production.
Willing to Risk Security
Mark Pfeffer, director of Project 2000, says finding jobs is not the only problem. Perhaps more difficult, he noted, is finding parents willing to risk the security of a sheltered environment for their children and risk the loss of monthly SSI benefits should their child lose the job.
"Most jobs we are looking at do not come with a lot of benefits. If you lose your Medicaid, you have to look at whether this is a good substitute for that," Craig Thornton said. "Sometimes it takes a family one or two years to convince an agency that their dependent needs assistance and then we come along and say, 'You can work.' "
Pfeffer said "Our biggest problem with employers is the image, the impression that these people are not capable. We are also in competition with other people for these entry-level jobs--undocumented workers, students."