Putting Faith to Work: Kessler Foundation Employment Grant Awarded to Four (KY, MN, TN, TX) UCEDDs

January 24, 2014

A collaboration of four UCEDDs were awarded a nearly half-million dollar Signature Employment Grant from the Kessler Foundation focused on building the capacity of faith communities to support employment for members with disabilities. The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN UCEDD) will serve as the lead site for the Putting Faith To Work project, under the direction of Erik Carter and Courtney Taylor. Partners include the Human Development Institute (KY UCEDD; Milt Tyree and Harold Kleinert), the Texas Center for Disability Studies (TX UCEDD; Penny Seay and Bill Gaventa), and the Institute on Community Integration (MN UCEDD; Angela Amado, Derek Nord, and Joe Timmons). All UCEDDs are members of the recently launched National Collaborative on Disabilities, Religion, and Spiritual Supports.

The focus of Putting Faith To Work is on enabling faith communities to address the employment needs of some of their members, by connecting people with disabilities to quality employment opportunities through the natural networks represented by congregational members, and to provide (or make linkages to) other individualized supports. By adapting research-based strategies to congregations, this project will expand the reach of what faith communities do so well: addressing the gifts and needs of their members, maintaining strong connections to local communities, and addressing community social problems.

Each UCEDD will invite congregations reflecting a breadth of faith traditions to support individuals with physical and/or developmental disabilities to secure and maintain employment in the community. The overarching goal of the project is to develop an accessible, step-by-step manual that details key elements of the approach and that could be drawn upon by any of the more than 335,000 congregations nationwide.

"Our proposed model carefully integrates discovery approaches, natural supports, and customized employment features and delivers them through faith networks," said Carter. "But it also builds upon scriptural understandings of the dignity of work, stewardship of one's talents/gifts, and the responsibility of the community both to support those 'on the margins.' We are convinced that we must work both within and beyond the formal service system if were going to fundamentally change the employment landscape for Americans with disabilities."

The project comes at a critical time. April 2013 statistics from the Department of Labor report that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is double that of people without disabilities (12.9% versus 6.9%). Perhaps most striking is that only 20.7% of people with disabilities participate in the labor force, versus 68.8% of people without disabilities.

For more information, contact [email protected]