Operation of TE in the Overall Clubhouse Setting

by Marjean Wood

When I first began working at Alliance House, the Director, Margaret Currin, explained to me that the way to run a unit was to keep the plates spinning. I'm sure I didn't grasp this concept until later, but the idea of spinning plates enters my mind often when members are signing up for unit functions and the unit is buzzing. I've since begun to view my Transitional Employment (TE) responsibilities as one of these plates.

It all begins with member and staff working side by side in the unit, doing real work, where they build and cultivate a relationship; then onto TE where the member is trained by staff and members. Those who choose not to work a TE support other's efforts by continuing work at the clubhouse.

TE is based on relationships. In addition to the critical relationship between the unit staff and the member, the relationship that develops between the clubhouse people and the employer is also of utmost importance to the success of TE. One of our employers, Bob Davidson of Skaggs Telecommunications Services Inc., was a speaker at our recent annual Employers Dinner. He spoke eloquently about how touched he was when members thanked him for the experiences that TE provided for them. He added that he really didn't know who gained more from the experience, the member on the TE, or himself.

Every clubhouse has its own TE Program. We all share the basics, but we each have slightly different styles and practices. The following is what works for us.

Development

Just like all clubhouses, Alliance House wants to have TEs with the best employers in the community. As a clubhouse, we discuss our needs and development efforts in our weekly TE meeting. We are also in the process of forming a Board employment committee, which will be able to help us realize our TE development goals. In addition, our members and staff have worked hard to build good relationships with employers in the Salt Lake Valley. For instance, we have wanted to have a library aid position for some time. Korrie Sabbagh, a staff member at Alliance House, had worked for the county library as an aid and was aware of how the library hired and the "lingo" they used. Through her knowledge and her good relationship with a library administrator, we now have two TE slots at the library.

Member Selection

Our weekly TE meetings are good opportunities for members and staff to become aware of which TEs are about to become available, where members are currently employed, and possible future TE opportunities for the clubhouse. When a TE becomes available, the placement manager checks with each unit to see if someone in that unit has expressed interest in the placement. An ongoing list of members interested in each of our current TEs is located in each unit. The units

provide the placement manager with all relevant information about the interested members, and a joint decision is made based on these units recommendations.

Training

Staff, and occasionally qualified members, train the member on the placement, while at the same time adding to productivity for the employer. The length of the training is very flexible, and generally continues until all parties are satisfied that the job is being done well. The member then works on that TE placement for six to nine months.

Co-management

Each of our placements is co-managed by a staff worker and a member back-up team. We generally try to have the member co-manager on the employer's payroll, but in instances when this is not possible, we have a fund available to ensure that members are paid for the time they spend training or covering absences. The member on the placement and the staff and member co-managers talk often about the placement, about any changes at the TE site and difficulties any of them may be experiencing. Through this co-management process, members develop important leadership roles and take on the responsibility of maintaining placements for the clubhouse membership.

Absentee Coverage

The co-management/back-up system enables us to maximize the number of TE placements we can cover with very few staff workers. With six line staff, two part time staff and an executive director, sixteen placements are the most we can manage, and even at that we must be very creative with placement coverage. An absence may be covered by the member back-up, the staff co-manager, or the member who works the opposite shift, who may be asked to work an occasional full day. When in a real crunch, I've grabbed a couple of other members and together we've gotten the work completed.

The size of our clubhouse, and the few staff we have, requires the staff to work together as a close team. Each staff member needs to have a good overall picture of each unit in order to cover adequately when someone else is called out on TE. We train two staff members on each placement, to ensure that even when staff are absent the TE will be covered. We have one staff member in each unit; without members taking on leadership roles, the units fall apart.

The relationship between members and staff are a vital part of a working clubhouse. When I have worked closely with a member on the unit, I can be more aware of issues that member may be experiencing on a TE placement, and I am in a good position to support him or her through these problems. When I am absent, a member with whom I have a good relationship is more apt to cover the unit. Strong clubhouse relationships are essential if this whole complicated arrangement is going to work.

Members Benefits

Assisting members in reporting earnings, resolving any problems, understanding how work effects their benefits and learning to report their earnings themselves, are all part of our TE Unit's daily work. I also hear discussions regarding these issues in all units, at lunch, and in all parts of Alliance House.

Supporting and Celebrating TE

The support and celebration of TE at Alliance House is apparent. Pictures of members who have done TE line the Dining Room walls, alongside our employer's company logos. In the TE Unit, members names are listed with start and stop dates under employers names. When members begin a TE, the house provides them a "send off," in which everyone at the house lines up in the hall and cheers the members as they leave for their first day at the job. Members who work even one day are celebrated for their efforts and success, We have a weekly Employment Dinner, at which each member on a TE or those who are working independently share their experiences and how long they have been working. There is a feeling of camaraderie, enjoyment, and support.

TE enters into all aspects of the clubhouse and gives the house excitement and life. It provides hope, engages members even deeper into the community, and helps prepare for their own future jobs.

Marjean Wood is on the staff of Alliance House is Salt Lake City, Utah.