Puzzle Pieces will expand their program with the addition of an Employment Opportunities division, a new arm to the non-profit that will focus on connecting clients with intellectual disabilities with local business and industry for employment placement.
According to Puzzle Pieces Executive Director Amanda Owen, Employment Opportunities will be a provider for state-funded supported employment through Department for Medicaid Services and The Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
“We become like sports agents,” Owen said. “We will connect with community businesses, learn the types of employment they offer and their job expectations. Then we will train our clients, teach them the skills they need for the job and become an advocate for them to gain employment.”
Puzzle Pieces’ 50 full-time and part-time employees currently serve 128 clients from ages 8 and up with varying intellectual disabilities.
“It wasn’t on our radar to do this,” Owen said. “But we go where the need is.”
Owen says she has client families ask about employment opportunities for their loved ones often. Combine these requests with what Owen learned during her experience with Leadership Owensboro last year — employers expressing their difficulty in finding employees that can show up and pass drug tests, according to Owen — and the Puzzle Pieces executive director said she knew she needed to act.
After receiving the acceptance from the state-level agencies, Owen immediately began working with local factories and corporations, building the groundwork with human resource departments. She toured UPS in Louisville and Toyota in Princeton, facilities that both offer training programs to people with intellectual disabilities. While Employment Opportunities will take a more individual approach rather than an on-site training program, Owen said this was still important in building the program.
Owen has also been meeting with Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce and Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation to create a workforce development coalition, with the goal of connecting providers like Employment Opportunities with employers.
As of now, Owen says she plans to lease office space next door to Puzzle Pieces for Employment Opportunities and hopes to hire a director to oversee the program.
“We would like to have our first employee hired before the end of the year,” Owen said.
Employment Opportunities will partner with AspYre, a service for 14- to 21-year-olds with intellectual disabilities to support transition into employment after high school, to offer an informational meeting on Monday, Sept. 17. The meeting, “Meet the Provider, Learn the Service” will be at 6 p.m. at the Logsdon Community Center.