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EP!C Finding Jobs For People With Disabilities During Pandemic

Tim Shelley / WCBU

Finding a job as the pandemic wears on is proving difficult for many. Individuals with disabilities can face even larger hurdles. One Peoria-based organization is finding success despite the pandemic.

EP!C prides itself on empowering people and inspiring capabilities. Job placement assistance is one of the north Peoria nonprofit’s services. Kaitlin McVey is EP!C’s Director of Community Placement. She works to match area employers with individuals with disabilities. McVey says COVID hasn’t slowed EP!C’s goals.

“Since March we’ve placed 34 people out in jobs, which is great. We try to place an average of 3-5 people per month. So, we have been doing a really good job since COVID,” said McVey.

EP!C is currently working with 83 individuals in the community. McVey says only two lost employment due to COVID.

“On the upside those two that were laid off due to [COVID], we have found them two jobs out in the community. So, that is a great thing for them.”

But, COVID has brought new challenges. EP!C assists individuals throughout the entire employment process – from employer connection to interviews to job coaching and any needed training. Online or video interviews are the new COVID normal. For some, this is difficult.

“I think the hardest part for the individuals we support during COVID is getting people used to video interviews, “ said McVey. “Some people thrive in being in person. So, kind of adjusting to that – it’s kind of hard for people to express themselves.”

McVey says like everyone, EP!C individuals have had to adjust to wearing masks. She adds employers are seeking says sanitization skills.

“A lot of people have gotten jobs in sanitization of different businesses. Just by whether that be cleaning carts or cleaning door handles or high touch areas, if you will, of the store. That is something that they’ve done really well at, as well," McVey said.

EP!C’s community employers include Build-A-Bear, HyVee, Advanced Medical Transport, Walgreens, Anytime Fitness and the Illinois State Unemployment Office. McVey says employers are often surprised when first working with EP!C.

“When the employer meets the individual for the first time you can tell they’re like, 'Oh, wow!' And, it’s so neat to kind of see that reaction because then they’re like, 'Kaitlin, you were right.' So it’s great to see that."

McVey hopes to add one new business for prospective employment each month. She says EP!C’s comprehensive services sometimes make all the difference.

“We’ve had it in the past where an employer has specifically said, 'No. We can’t hire somebody through EP!C right now due to this, this and this reason,'" she said. "And so I’m like, well, we’re here every step of the way. They’re like, 'Okay! Let’s hire them right now.”’

Ashley Schreck is EP!C’s Director of Marketing. She says placing individuals in careers – not jobs – is the ultimate goal. She says supportive services benefit employers. More importantly, they guide an individual’s the long-term success.

“Really we are there for that individual,” said Schreck. We’re there to make sure they’re comfortable, that they’re understanding, that we are a comfortable person to ask questions to if they need help. And then we come back at any time. If there’s re-training. If they’re doing so well in their job that they get promoted, we’ll come back and help them with that as well.”

Schreck said even with success, the biggest pre-COVID challenge remains – breaking the disability stigma with prospective employers.

“There is that misconception that we only help the severely disabled, but a disability is a disability, and it doesn’t define anyone," she said.

Schreck adds a recent success story underscores this sentiment.

“One individual that we recently placed - he’s got a bachelor’s degree from Augustana College – happened to be diagnosed with autism in his college years and was just struggling to get past that process and get his foot in the door," she said. "And, so now he is a veterinary assistant at a local veterinary clinic and he is absolutely loving life.”

Schreck says he’s now working on obtaining a doctorate in veterinary science.

WCBU Story

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Kristin McHugh is an experienced radio journalist and nonprofit manager. Most recently, she served as executive director of the Peoria Area World Affairs Council.