Michele Ford, CEO at Inroads to Opportunities.
For over 42 years Michele has served the needs of individuals with disabilities. She received her masters in rehabilitation counseling from Seton Hall university and began her career as an employment specialist. She is licensed in both counseling and vocational rehabilitation.
A life-long advocate, she served on Union County Non-Profit Consortium, Union County Crisis Consortium and most recently addressed members of the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness of choice in defense of employment options for individuals with disabilities.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Inroads to Opportunities programs and services.
- Inroads provides vocational exploration, career planning, skills training, work readiness, job development placement and continued supports once someone gets employed if needed.
- Transition from school to work for folks 16-21 as well as health services including medication management and day services for those who have significant behavioral health challenges.
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for High Velocity Radio.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:14] Lee Kantor here another episode of High Velocity Radio. And this is going to be a good one. Today on the show we have Michele Ford with inroads to opportunities. Welcome, Michelle.
Michele Ford: [00:00:26] Thank you so much for having me on today.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:29] Lee I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about inroads, opportunities, how you serving folks.
Michele Ford: [00:00:35] So we serve folks in New Jersey with those with disabilities from the ages of 16 on up. And we have a little group that are kind of retiring, so to speak, And we work with people with all kinds of disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, addictions, just anybody who needs us and is facing a challenge. And of course, our focus and mission is to prepare them and help them to become full members of their communities through work.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:10] Now, what’s your backstory? How did you get involved in this line of work?
Michele Ford: [00:01:14] Actually, I went to school, my undergraduates in criminal justice and sociology. I thought the law was going to be my field, but kind of got a little bit, I don’t know. At the end of the time, I was kind of thinking both ways. So somebody said, Michelle, you know, you’d be a great counselor. Why don’t you try that? So I said, Let me go and do some investigation. So I started working as an employment specialist. At that time. It was just called the Job Developer in Program for People with Disabilities, and I got hooked.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:45] So now does your organization train the disabled to have job opportunities or do you partner with businesses? And how do.
Michele Ford: [00:01:55] Training? And we still have a long time training program. So we have some folks who’ve been with us for a very long time and we have another large group of people that never come kind of on site, but we help them to secure employment and we work with them through their employment life. And many times if something changes or they need our help again. So we have employment specialists to do that. But we also do day programing here for people with psychiatric, chronic, long term psychiatric illnesses. We have a psychiatrist, a nurse on staff, so we have about 300 people that come every day in some capacity here. We also have a very large program now of transition students, students who are still in their school systems who come to us for their transition to adulthood. So where are they going as far as work and how do we get them there now?
Lee Kantor: [00:02:49] Can you share maybe your conversations you’re having with business people, how you explain the opportunity and where this is something that is probably outside the scope of how they look for employees, but this might be a really viable place to start looking for employees. You know, if the fit is right. Can you explain how you explain your.
Michele Ford: [00:03:12] We you know, we operate a little bit like, say.
Michele Ford: [00:03:16] An employment facility.
[00:03:17] You know, any place that’s doing employment. But we actually go in and explain those kinds of benefits, what we offer to employers, which is the extra pair of hands to help with training, anything they would need to help that person assimilate into the workplace and to use. And most of our folks that are ready for employment really do want to be employed and they want that opportunity. We try to make as much contact with the business community so we can kind of feel the employment situation out so we make sure we’re making good matches. So that’s the upside to that. We offer employers that we’re not taking anybody to this employment site as a possibility if we don’t think it would be a good fit. And then so we do some task analysis with the employer to make sure we understand the full components of the job. So we know we’re we’re getting the best candidates for them.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:17] Now when you’re working with people as young as 16, is that when they can begin the program?
Michele Ford: [00:04:24] Yes, as young as 16. So a lot of our students today have a diagnosis of autism. So we get them early so that they can learn the work. What is a workplace culture like? What What do I mean by I get a paycheck? What what does that mean for me? What are the expectations of the work world? So kind of preparing them for that so that graduation time they’re ready to take on that responsibility.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:54] Now, you mentioned that you’re serving several hundred people a day. Is that just a drop in the the ocean in terms of how many people need this type of services or.
Michele Ford: [00:05:06] Oh, my goodness, of course, we’re one of 28 agencies in New Jersey. And I’m sure Georgia and every other state has their every state does their vocational rehabilitation differently. But there are a lot of folks, when you think about the fact that only about 34% of people with disabilities from the ages of 16 to 64 are employed, you also know that what is it, 17% of folks between the ages of three and 17 now have a developmental or intellectual disability. I mean, those numbers are growing, not getting smaller. The extra help to get them to a to a good workplace is essential today.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:52] Now, is it difficult for you to find employers that are open to this?
Michele Ford: [00:05:59] Oh, yes. I think that that’s the challenge. It was the challenge in 1980 when I started in the field. It’s still the challenge, but it’s really getting, I think, a little easier for employers because like I said previously, when you think of COVID and all of the adjustments and things we have to do to make it a working for everybody today, everybody’s doing accommodations in some sort, it’s an easier time for employers to take the leap for some people who have physical challenges and some other disabling conditions.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:36] Now are there certain industries or types of companies that you think would work out really well if they were just, you know, made aware of this or were open to it?
Michele Ford: [00:06:47] Well, I think, you know, the the disability community has the broad range of skills, just like the regular community, right? We have college graduates to people that are nonreaders. So every industry can benefit from having a diverse and rich workforce. That includes people who are facing challenges in their life.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:11] Right. But it’s one of those things when you’re trying to market to everybody, then you’re marketing to nobody because nobody thinks they’re the right fit. So.
Michele Ford: [00:07:20] Well, we do a lot with like corporations, like Home Depot and the retail environment and but there are so many small mom and pops that might fit for a particular individual who maybe likes a smaller environment. So it really is as we come into each person, we work with them individually and try to develop those contacts that are appropriate for them. And then hopefully that that grows as our we as our employer grows, right? So we have worked with a lot of so we have a very good relationship with now the Amazons of the world and the blue aprons that are doing food prep and some of the cafeterias across the state that do school cafeterias. There are all different kinds of environments that do well with us. And you know, we can replicate that in every industry, really.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:22] Now, is there a story you can share, maybe a success story? Obviously, don’t name the name and maybe not even name the company, but explain the situation and how you were able to help this person, you know, lead a more fulfilling life once they got into their opportunity.
Michele Ford: [00:08:38] So we had a young woman who had had a very difficult life. She had both been abused as a child, had a long addictions history, had some developmental challenges from some of the things that she had gone through in her life. And she came to us just beginning, coming out of a halfway house and she starting her recovery. So she came here and she didn’t think this would be the place for her. She right away thought maybe she was going to head right back out to the street. And somehow the hook of work training, being able to have a paycheck, but also continue the. The process because she wasn’t ready right away to go fully into competitive employment. And so she started to make those gains and eventually got her job in a hospital situation doing. She was doing in janitorial and their maintenance department got a full time job. We still see her. She comes. And if she needs some help, maybe with paperwork for something or just to stop in because we are her community as well and she has established a relationship. But she said for 35 years she tried very hard and kept going back to using and this became kind of her stronghold to move forward and to finally become a full participating member of the community with a full time job.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:09] So what is it we can be doing for you? What do you need more of?
Michele Ford: [00:10:14] We need employers to be okay with us coming in, at least getting a good task analysis, maybe just having somebody try some of the activities of work because, you know, each work environment is very different. And when you’re dealing with people with, say, an autism spectrum issue, that might be the environment, not the skill of the job, that may be the key. So just letting us kind of really understanding the workplace so that we can make better opportunities for people and make sure that they’re applying for the jobs that they that they’re appropriate for. So because nobody wants to fail, that’s one thing I will say. And we don’t want them to either. So we want to make really good connections for them so they can have long term employment, which everybody wants. And I believe everybody it’s important for everybody to work that can.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:09] And your you you’re going to be kind of that bridge to help ensure once that person you don’t just send somebody out there, you’re going to be there kind of helping. We’re there.
Michele Ford: [00:11:20] We’re there as long as they need us. And I have people that have I worked with 40 years ago that still are come back to see me all the time. They’re retiring like me soon. And so we have a lot to talk about.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:36] And then some of the work can can it be done remotely now? So much work is done remotely. Are those opportunities also interesting for you and your team?
Michele Ford: [00:11:46] Well, it’s in some cases, in specific cases where people have those skills, the technology skills. But this population has never really the ones that we deal with, which are many have multiple issues and disabilities. We haven’t gotten that much into the remote work. We have definitely used it in our mental health program because that has been a wonderful extra for our counselors and a better connection to participants who got very afraid and were very afraid to come out of their houses and we were able to keep them out of the hospital by having telehealth and and remote work.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:29] Now, if somebody wants to learn more, have a more substantive conversation with you or somebody on your team, what is the website?
Michele Ford: [00:12:36] So we are at w-w-w dot inroads in dsto.org and our phone number here is 908 2417 200. I would love to talk to anybody who wants to have a conversation and any employer that might want to give somebody an opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:57] Well, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Michele Ford: [00:13:02] Well, thank you for taking the time to let me have this opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:06] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on High Velocity Radio.