Kirt Barden, CEO of Lighthouse Vocational Services (LVS), is excited about what is happening with the program. LVS, which provides vocational training to individuals with disabilities, is sending more clients into the community to work with both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. "It's changing," said Barden. "We have a paradigm shift."
The change is remarkable in many ways, but partly because only a year ago LVS was linking arms with parents and organizations that provide similar services in response to government regulations that would have required clients to work in the community 75 percent of the time. "We talked about freedom of choice and behavioral issues," said Barden, who saw validation of the efforts when the state dropped the requirement back to 25 percent of the time. In April, the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania introduced a noncontroversial resolution under rule 35. The resolution recognizes the value of sheltered workshops in the lives of individuals with disabilities and acknowledges providers who enable individuals with disabilities to live full and productive lives in their communities. "God spoke in a magnificent way through our parents and providers," said Barden.
The challenges led LVS into a process of re-examining the services it provides based on specific foundational criteria. "Our foundation begins with the Gospel of Christ," explained Barden. "People need not be Christian to come here, but we believe in it." LVS offers services under a private pay option, which Barden noted is unique among organizations like LVS.
LVS also understands that not all businesses are able to hire people with disabilities. "There is no mechanism in place for businesses to be trained in this area through the state or federal government," noted Barden, "so it will be done through Lighthouse and our representatives reaching out to the community to educate businesses."
To begin the process of change, LVS has taken steps to offer more options for clients. "We have set aside a room for daily living skills training," said Barden. "We will introduce our participants to learning opportunities." Barden added that an exercise room, a community hall, a creative art center, a sensory room, and an additional workspace will all be part of the change.
LVS began working toward one of its goals six months ago. "(None of our clients) were going out to volunteer," said Barden, adding that volunteerism is an essential tenet of the LVS mission. "We want our participants to understand what it means to give back as Christ would want us to do," he said. "That's one of the most important things our clients can learn." LVS clients are currently volunteering at CrossNet, at LCBC, and with Meals on Wheels, among other organizations.
Another initiative is called Personal Customized Employment, a process that began with a needs analysis of area businesses. "We seek to understand the needs of local businesses, (so) we have them in for tours," explained Barden. Also, before a client is sent to a job in the community, an evaluation team, which includes parents, participants, state representatives, LVS personnel, and others, decides whether a client is ready and able. "After approval, my team of job coaches (works) to match an individual and his or her gifts and talents with a business," said Barden.
Barden noted that as LVS representatives are sharing with the community about the skills clients can bring to a job, the businesses are beginning to realize the potential of LVS clients. "(Business owners) see the same (LVS) client coming every month to cut their grass, smiling and always being there, and they look to do more with us," said Barden. "There are businesses out there that hear about the unique people we have who (can be) brought to the workplaces."
Readers who would like to learn more about LVS may call 717-354-0355.