Challenge Grant to Support Community Employment Opportunities for Adults with Disabilities

$250,000 Challenge Grant to Support Community Employment Opportunities for Adults with Disabilities

Posted on April 17, 2017

With a lack of employment and inclusion opportunities, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) struggle to be integrated in the communities in which they live. Thanks to a $250,000 challenge grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the nonprofit Penn-Mar Human Services, an Employment First provider, will be able to expand its Community Employment (CE) program over the next two years, to help men and women with IDD find and keep jobs in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Penn-Mar’s Community Employment program, established in 2010, is regionally recognized for its innovative and collaborative approach to placing adults with IDD in community-based jobs in Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties, Maryland, and York County, Pennsylvania. The overarching goal of the CE program is to explore and discover talents that lead to placing individuals with IDD into competitive jobs, thereby decreasing the poverty rate of these individuals and creating greater opportunities for community inclusion.

As a standard challenge grant, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation grant – $125,000 per year for two years – will leverage other donations for Penn-Mar’s CE program. Penn-Mar has already raised more than $100,000 through generous matching grants from The Marion I. and Henry J. Knott Foundation, $45,000; People’s Bank, $25,000; Transamerica Foundation, $25,000; Koons Westminster, $5,000; and The John J. Leidy Foundation, $4,000. The Challenge Grant will enable Penn-Mar to increase the number of individuals participating in the CE program, diversify the businesses in Penn-Mar’s employer portfolio, and increase job retention rates for the individuals participating in the program.

“We are very grateful to The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation for its generosity and to the matching funding partners for helping Penn-Mar continue to break down the barriers to employment and full social inclusion for the men and women we support,” said Gregory T. Miller, Penn-Mar’s president and CEO.”

Individuals with disabilities face barriers the majority of the non-disabled community does not struggle through. The three major barriers, as identified by US Department of Health and Human Services, are: (1) the lack of appropriate jobs and training; (2) need for specific accommodations; (3) access to and use of transportation systems. Penn-Mar’s customized approached reduces the need for accommodations and thereby opens up additional employment opportunities.

Additionally, the fear of exploitation and loss of benefits are also of great concern. These barriers are the result of the denial of opportunities provided to individuals with disabilities and the practice of keeping these individuals sheltered and invisible in communities throughout the country. In 2010, Penn-Mar’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to transition from the popular, but antiquated sheltered workshop model to an inclusive community-based employment program.

Penn-Mar’s customized approach to community-based employment has a zero exclusion commitment to anyone who wants to work. No one is turned away because of their disability. All individuals undergo a Discovery Process – an assessment of skills, abilities, interests, motivations and ideal work conditions. The key is not to fill a slot but find  work the person wants to do and has the skills to be successful, along with meeting an unmet need for the employer. All work is competitive, in the community and in integrated work places – people with and without disabilities working alongside each other.

The CE program has four distinct processes and stages that aid in attaining and retaining a career: the aforementioned Career Exploration and Discovery process, Job Development, The Hire, and Stabilization and Retention.

The US Office of Disability Employment Policy estimates that 70 percent of working-aged individuals with disabilities nationwide are unemployed, and one-third of those employed earn an income below the federally mandated minimum wage. Without job opportunities and fair wages, individuals with disabilities are nearly three times as likely to live in poverty than people without disabilities. The poverty rate for individuals with disabilities in Maryland is a marginal improvement on the national average of 28.7 percent, ranging from 16.7 to 24.6 percent, however, in Pennsylvania the poverty rate is at 27.8 to 30.2 percent. In the non-disabled community, the poverty rates are 7.5 to 10.9 percent and 10.9 to 12.8 percent in Maryland and Pennsylvania respectively.

For information about Penn-Mar’s Community Employment program and supporting employment and inclusion initiatives for individuals with disabilities, call 410-343-1069, or visit

About Penn-Mar Human Services

Penn-Mar Human Services, founded in 1981, serves more than 400 adults with intellectual disabilities through its residential, respite, educational, vocational and supported employment programs in northern Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties in Maryland, and in southern York County in Pennsylvania. 

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