Udac builds skills for inclusive workforce

Udac builds skills for inclusive workforce

Grant helps nonprofit create job opportunities for adults with disabilities

DULUTH—Skilled. Independent. Resourceful. All describe the kind of employees who thrive in the modern workforce and whom employers want to hire. Udac supports individuals to be this type of employee.

A partnership between Duluth-based nonprofit Udac and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation has helped Udac transform how it serves adults with employment barriers, many of whom want to be involved in the community, learn about post-secondary education and be employed.

A $75,000 grant from the Community Foundation helped Udac develop partnerships with local businesses, nonprofits and schools to create more jobs for Udac’s clients. Udac rebuilt the entire organization to support individuals– empowering clients to use public transportation, advocate for themselves, develop careers and build self-reliance to achieve their community living goals.

In less than two years, Udac has more than doubled its number of business partners, opening doors at the Duluth International Airport, Essentia Health, Loll Designs and several dozen others. More than 50 individuals are employed across the Northland, and the number is growing.

Udac’s new model recently received national recognition with an Organizational Best Practices Award from the National Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE).

“The Community Foundation was the first to believe in our vision to transform—that it was possible—and willing to support it with a meaningful gift,” Udac Executive Director Karen Herman said.

One Udac client spent 20 years in a sheltered workshop, where his work, transportation and time in the community was always supervised. His first step toward self-reliance was taking community transportation to work. After 18 months spent developing his talents, he now works independently at his job.

“This is what I always wanted for my son, and I never thought it would happen,” his mother said. “This program is needed. More people need to learn about it so they can be part of it.”

Another client with Down Syndrome and limited verbal skills has achieved success and independence. Since high school graduation, his work, transportation and community time also had been supervised. After working with a Career and Life Coach at Udac to eliminate barriers and build opportunities, he is employed four days a week and takes a cab, unsupervised, to work. He loves his newfound independence.

The new approach has benefits for employers, too. Preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that, in May, the most recent month for which statistics are available, unemployment stood at 3.7 percent in the Twin Ports region, one of the Northland’s lowest unemployment rates in a decade.

“The key here is we have a workforce shortage,” said Chad Nurminen, Support Services Director at Essentia Health. “The Udac program is connecting those who want to work with people like myself who have positions to fill.” Nurminen says it’s been rewarding for his staff and that Udac’s clients are having a positive impact at Essentia. “It’s been a great thing for everyone involved.”

“This is timely, beautiful work,” Foundation President and CEO Shaun Floerke said. “Meeting community employment needs and expanding services to include all people benefits everyone.”

Herman said, “This is community inclusion in the broadest sense and represents collaboration across many sectors. The model elevates comprehensive community involvement and removes systemic barriers to community living. It defines pathways of community living for all. The APSE Organizational Best Practice award acknowledges the tremendous effort of the Udac team, community partners and most importantly the people successfully achieving community living.”