KSI offers value to participants, local businesses

MILFORD — When Annie Momot was told she nailed her first interview and would soon begin her first job, she celebrated by telling her peers inside Kent-Sussex Industries, or KSI, in Milford.

Harrington Raceway & Casino was to be her new employer, and she their new dishwasher.

“I love it,” she said in an interview while on break. Her favorite part of the job is the relationship she has come to love between herself, her co-workers and DJ Silicato, executive director of food and beverage at Harrington Raceway & Casino.

Ms. Momot started her employment journey as a KSI participant, enjoying pre-vocational training opportunities and life enrichment activities such as trips and volunteer outings. She is now on the path of supported employment, according to Alicia Hollis.

“It’s not a convenient world if you have a disability. It’s not. That’s why we’re here to be advocates. When this person walks through that door, I’m going to see a future employee. I don’t see that disability. I see what you can do,” Ms. Hollis said. “Imagine being told for a lot of your life that you couldn’t do this or wouldn’t do that. And you go, you know, I can. I just need support. I just need to go through the steps.”

KSI, she passionately explains, has some of those steps in place ready to meet the needs of their participant.

“We used to be completely work focused. But now we’re community focused,” she added. “And the cool thing is we can be community focused because our community includes us.”

Staff members at KSI offer three targeted programs for participants. Each participant takes on a pre-vocational step which helps staffers understand their individual skillsets, what their wants and needs might be and what their behavior looks like on a regular basis. They will also learn skills they will need while on the job.

“I look at that pre-voc as a determining piece: learn skills, be out in the community… it lasts about four or five or six months. And if behavior isn’t ready for employment just yet, they stay in. Or maybe they move on to life enrichment or maybe they do both,” Ms. Hollis said.

Life enrichment through KSI offers trips to participants. For example, a group has spent time learning knitting while another group might have attended a yoga class. Others may volunteer to help others.

Supported employment, the program from which businesses such as Harrington Raceway & Casino benefits, involves a one on one job match for KSI’s participants and a paycheck from the business directly to employees like Ms. Momot.

But before she could take her new job, KSI Employment Specialist Jessy Chisenhall took her on three assessments totaling four hours to ensure Ms. Momot had the skills needed to be a great employee as is done with every supported employment candidate.

Employment specialists also assist with creating a resume, completing applications and helping potential employers understand the candidates’ personalities, wants and needs.

Ms. Hollis says these steps help each participate take away newfound independence and confidence without worry, “because every step I take my employment specialist is going to be with me.”

Ann Haggerty, employment specialist director, added, “We help build their abilities, strengthen their skills and help them with whatever skills they need to be successful in the community as far as building resumes or doing job interviews. We try to overcome any barriers that would prevent them from being in the community.”

Once all of that was completed, Ms. Momot and Ms. Chisenhall then went together to a working interview with Mr. Silicato at Harrington Raceway & Casino. That was all that was needed for the facility to open their arms to the new employee despite her disability.

“She’s differently-abled. People are scared to take this leap,” Mr. Silicato said. “Is there a risk? No. Zero. You have to be able to give them [KSI] a chance.”

Participants, even when employed outside of KSI’s facility, are covered under their insurance, he emphasized. They also enter the job already trained with support available just a phone call away should they need it.

“There is a learning curve. Annie didn’t walk in here and set the world on fire. At first, she was a little shy and not sure what to do. But after a month, she doesn’t need Jessy, the boss, etc. at all,” he added.

Even after the KSI participant is hired by an outside company, Ms. Chisenhall and other employment specialists stay with that participant for days to a month at a time while on the job to help them learn the routines and position requirements. Sometimes, this means modeling the job for new employees to help ensure success.

But the transition to getting and maintaining a job isn’t just about what is required once the employee enters the building.

“There’s riding the DART bus or making sure I arrive in time showered, fed and ready to go,” Ms. Hollis said. “DART time is one of the biggest considerations honestly. They are not dependable times.”

The unease of knowing if you will arrive on time to your job or not, or if the ride will be there to pick you up afterwards on time, is enough for anyone to feel anxious. The employment specialist is there to help with even this transition.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than to see the individual who just received their first conditional hire from their employer and they’re about to work their first day,” Ms. Haggerty said. “They feel it emotionally. It’s so rewarding. You can’t explain it or put a dollar figure on it.”

In Ms. Momot’s case, Ms. Haggerty used the word “contagious” to describe the experience.

“She was crying. The whole building was happy,” she said.

Mr. Silicato said Harrington Raceway & Casino now shares in her excitement, especially Ms. Momot’s co-workers,

“She treats every single one of us the same. She doesn’t see color or titles. In the world we see now, it’s probably the biggest thing we need right now. The value she adds is worth far more than any dishes, She made an immediate impact.” he said. “And she takes pride in this. When she got the award [KSI Employee of the Quarter], she put it on my desk to make sure I saw it.”

Hiring an employee through KSI’s supportive employment program is a decision he says he wouldn’t think twice about again.

“If we had to do this ourselves, I don’t think we could do this. But we have a good relationship with Jessy, and so does Annie. We don’t have to coach or mentor her, Jessy does. I really hope there’s more industries that take KSI up on the offer,” he said.

“People are scared to take this leap. But the services they fill are services not many want to fill. Every store has a floor and every floor needs to be cleaned. It’s a breath of fresh air to have one adult that sometimes has the mind of a child that I don’t have to babysit. The roles they fulfill and the services they provide to you… I’d rather have a KSI employee than a teenager.”

Mr. Silicato extended an offer to employers considering a partnership with KSI: “If they’re not doing it? Number one, they’re making a mistake. Number two, call me. I’ll gladly tell them about how KSI makes a difference.”

Local businesses interested in supported employment opportunities can also call Ms. Haggerty at 422-4014 for more information.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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