Mary Jo Uklenkowich packs wire brushes at Burnley Employment and Rehab Services at the Stroudsburg location.
by Howard Frank. Reposted from Pocono Record
Long tables fill a portion of the large open space of the Burnley Workshop. Employees sit at these tables, assembling, packing, labeling and boxing brushes for the Cresco-based Weiler Corporation. The assembly line runs smoothly.
What make this plant special are the employees. Each has an intellectual, mental health or physical disability. Yet they perform in a productive, mostly independent manor.
The Snydersville service has a singular purpose — to help people with disabilities find their path to employment.
Those with common disabilities are often excluded from the workforce, let alone those with major difficulties. Burnley is able to train these workers with a singular philosophy — focus on their abilities, not disabilities.
The disabled workers, all paid employees, are assigned to and trained on tasks within their range of skills, Assistant Director Carla Robinson said. Job coaches assist the workers as they adapt to their new trade.
Some of the workers have been there for 20 years.
The workshop also has a community employment program that helps people with disabilities find jobs in the community.
“We have a young man with severe autism who works as a cashier at a retail chain,” Robinson said. “With the support of the store and his job coach, he’s able to maintain his employment.”
The job coach helps the employee learn the job, whether it’s onsite or at the workshop. Sometimes support for a disabled employee is just in knowing how to deal with their individual issues.
In the cashier’s case, his disability sometimes leads to an outburst, like little temper tantrums, Robinson said. “Sometimes it’s teaching them how to interact with others because they don’t have the social skills that others do.”
“The person who works there didn’t really know math or how to read, but he really had a good memory,” she said. “So we used his abilities instead of his disabilities and taught him how to make change. He memorized how to make change from $100 down.”
In the beginning a coach may be with the employee all the time. After a while, the Burnley presence fades until the employee is on their own.
Burnley trained another man who had a severe stroke, and is now working as a photo tech for the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles.
He had a massive stroke that left him paralyzed on one side. His work area was adapted and he was trained to compensate for his paralysis. There were simple changes, like rearranging his workspace and providing tools so he can grasp things with one hand.
“A lot of people think accommodations are expensive but they are not,” Robinson said. “I think we spent $5 in this case.”
Burnley almost closed seven years ago due to a lack of funds. That’s when it merged with Allied Services Integrated Health System, Robinson said.
“It allowed us to continue by taking over some of our overhead, like workers comp and medical insurance.”
Most of the workshop’s funding comes from state and federal Mental Health and Developmental Services.
Burnley’s workforce is changing, though.
“Our workers are starting to dwindle a little bit over the past 15 years or so, because our population is getting older. We have about 40 employees now. In our heyday, we had about 85,” Robinson said.