Gail Smallwood found help for her shattered legs but not her broken heart.
After years of struggling to find a good job, the 44-year-old Tarzana woman said she fears her dream of rejoining the working world may never come to pass because of a federal investigation into allegations of fraud at a San Fernando Valley agency set up to help Smallwood and other disabled people find work.
Concerned about a U. S. Department of Labor investigation into alleged double-billing, the Los Angeles City Council voted early last week to terminate its $566,300 contract with ADEPT, a Valley-based agency that stands for Assisting the Disabled with Employment and Training.
ADEPT's 1992 contract with the city calls for training and job placement for 97 disabled residents, part of the federally funded Jobs Training Partnership Act program. The city administers the grant for the federal government.
Although the council decided on Friday to restore the contract, it declined to allocate any more city funds to the agency, leaving ADEPT without a source of money.
The turmoil surrounding ADEPT has left Smallwood, as well as several current and former clients, shaken and distressed about the fate of an agency they said was pivotal in helping them find self-esteem and employment.
ADEPT officials, who have denied any wrongdoing, said they are uncertain how long they can continue to operate.
Disabled clients who were in the process of being trained for jobs or about to be placed in positions say they are now left in limbo because of the agency's uncertain status.
"I had five possibilities for positions, and now everything's just closed up," said Smallwood, 44, who has torn ligaments and cartilage in both legs. She had been hoping to get a secretarial or accounting position.
"If this had not happened, I would be employed by now," Smallwood said. "But I can't be placed through ADEPT any more. To penalize them for this is one thing, but they're hurting a lot of people who really want to work.
"I mean, they should penalize them and get on with it," she added, exasperation in her voice.
Another client, who suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, said the ADEPT controversy has also left him in the lurch.
"I had taken workshops on how to do a resume, and I was on my way to seeing a placement counselor when the whole thing collapsed," said Jeffrey, 48, a Woodland Hills resident who asked that his last name not be used. "This makes me mad. I feel that I'm cut off in mid-stream."
Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of ADEPT, said of the controversy's effect on her clients: "I have a lot of pain about what's happened. Our people have limited options, and they come to us because they've met with frustration and a great deal of discouragement in finding jobs. We've always said to them, 'We're here for you.' Now we want to clear our name."
Galloway-Gilliam said the federal investigation will determine whether ADEPT double-billed for 14 of its clients--charging the state Department of Rehabilitation as well as the federal jobs training program for the cost of helping one person.
Parker Anderson, general manager of the city's Community Development Department, said earlier last week that he would try to make sure that job training services to the disabled would not be disrupted by the controversy surrounding ADEPT.
Galloway-Gilliam said Friday that although the job placement aspect of ADEPT is on hold, the agency would continue with training and workshops.
In the meantime, several of ADEPT's clients are waiting to see what will happen. Others have become frustrated and moved on to other agencies affiliated with the state Department of Rehabilitation and located in the San Fernando Valley.
"Their sense is that some of them have had to pursue other alternatives," said Arthur Grant, an ADEPT employment counselor.
"It's really unfair," said Gail Graff, 30, an ADEPT client who suffers from dyslexia. "I had my resumes all together and was about to go out on some job interviews for reception work. This really frustrates me no end. A lot of people will be hurt by this."
But some ADEPT clients have decided to wait out the difficulties, hoping for the best.
Becky Farnsworth, 39, a legally blind administrative assistant with ADEPT who has been laid off, said, "I hope everything works out but I'm having the same kind of nightmares I used to have when I would get rejections from employers who thought a legally blind person could not do secretarial work."
Several of ADEPT's former and current clients said that besides helping them find work, the agency had helped them regain self-confidence and enthusiasm to cope with rejection.
Pastor Alvarado, 34, who went through the ADEPT program eight months ago, said potential employers seemed to frown on him because he has a severe limp. One of his legs is one inch shorter than the other.
"I was unemployed for over a year, and I didn't know what I was doing wrong," said Alvarado, who lives in Pacoima. "ADEPT was my last chance. They really helped me out, and got me a job within two months."
Alvarado now works as a customer service agent at a rental agency.
Sue Cross, 44, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, said simply, "I probably wouldn't be working without ADEPT."