Sunday, July 28, 2013


Raymond Thunder-Sky volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, back in the day..

I'm always trying to figure out what I am supposed to do.  That sounds point-blank, but it isn't.  There is a huge difference between doing what you are supposed to do and figuring out what that is.  Without figuring it out and understanding reasons and consequences, what you do often becomes null and void or even worse it makes things crappier.  Case in point:  in my day-job activities I try to help people with developmental disabilities get real jobs.  It is one of the hardest things to do on Earth, but also, I think, one of the only ways people who are often shut out of life's opportunities have access to go beyond the clich├ęs and isolations we place on them as a culture.  You make a life out of all kinds of experiences and chances, and having a job with a decent wage is one of the primary ways you acquire both cultural capital and a sense of worth, not to mention friends. 

I work within a variety of systems to make this job thing happen, and most of the time the work is a great example of this quote often attributed to Einstein:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

We keep providing the same kinds of services, expecting "outcomes" that matter, and when those "outcomes" don't happen we tend not to blame the system, but the situation, and kind of implicitly the people we're trying to help.  The systems for helping people with developmental disabilities are usually based on "job-readiness" models, meaning we use a lot of resources getting people "ready" for the work-world, assessments and trainings, etc. that sometimes go on for years and make up the bulk of the "logic" involved in "Employment Services."  When it comes to getting jobs, we' aren't so good.  We don't really do a lot of networking with businesses, and we don't really try to simply act as placement services, as opposed to assessment/training services.  In short, we basically prepare people to wait.  And then the waiting turns into a sort of service itself.

So what I'm trying to figure out, with the help of some really great and smart people, is how to make things happen in a straight-forward and no-BS fashion, unwinding the "same thing over and over again" into results that matter:  people employed.  Period.  

We met a month ago or so and did a sort of loose but meaningful PATH plan on how to approach changing things.  We're calling ourselves a "secret society" because we don't want it to be about us or a system or any of that.  We want it to be about what it's supposed to be about, whatever that turns out to be.  Below  is what we came up with... 

We're meeting this Tuesday at Thunder-Sky, Inc. to figure out more stuff... 

Raymond casting himself as the "Costumed Ironworker" in one of his thousands of construction site drawings.  Below:  a note Raymond jotted down to himself during one of his many job-hunts around the city.

Which brings me to:  Raymond.  He was someone with a developmental disability who craved meaningful employment.  After all is said and done about him, that was his main goal in life, and he never really achieved it.  His art-making came from that main desire, and he accrued a lot of construction-worker accouterments on his way to trying to get a construction job.  He even created his own job (a sort of on-site construction-worker/conceptual artist) by bringing markers, paper and a makeshift drawing table to demolition and construction sites all across Cincinnati, all so he could be a part of the work even though he was mostly excluded from it.  Raymond worked at several places, including Goodwill (he even volunteered for Habitat for Humanity), but he never got a chance at his dream-job.  So I think it's totally appropriate that we use his space to try to figure some of the stuff out.  And when you get right down to it, helping people get employed is a sort of art of its own, kind of like curating an exhibit:  you have to be keen and alert and thoughtful.  You have to set up situations that yield more than one result. 

Trying to Make Employment Work
PATH Plan June 24, 2013

Our Dream for Ways Things Will Be, Our "North Star"

Discovery (hanging out with intent, figuring out what works and what doesn't without using the same old assessment models)
No assessment-heavy supports
People have money and economic self sufficiency
They know how to maintain (and/or get rid of) benefits while increasing income
Businesses are open and seeking employees with different backgrounds, and we have a way to communicate with them that is reciprocal, natural, and benefits everyone
Citizen Connectors:  connections that go beyond what programs often can do, and intend
Working means "career," not just a job
Helping people, not programs
Practitioners (service systems) get "along"
Citizen Connectors that help with all aspects of being a part of the world -- introductions, informational interviews, forming viable networks
The only measure of success is employment
People are connected -- and one of the huge aspects of that connection is "happily employed" at a job that challenges and stimulates them
Families, coworkers, friends, etc. participate in the process and help to change it

Positive/Possible June 2014

30 informational interviews with business.  No agenda, just interviews.
20 more people wanting to work -- getting jobs in a better way -- organizing into Community Action Teams.
The "Secret Society: has helped 5 people get employed -- a group from varying backgrounds -- like-minded, beyond the radar.
More people in connector roles.
Interest group assisting with 3 local businesses.
Transition meetings:  "What kind of work do you want to do?  How do you want to live your life?"

Right Now

Employment First (an Ohio government initiative) is "topdown" and "same old same old" but it starting some new conversations.
A disconnect still exists between TALK and PRACTICE.
People unemployed and underemployed.
Providers of Service operate in old models.
Everybody has to be someplace during the day.

Staying Strong

Regular gatherings (monthly or semimonthly).
Facebook group.
Keeping it real and fun.
Grow the group.
Keep our focus on employment.