Let’s Work offers opportunities for adults with disabilities
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – Confidence, independence, a sense of belonging – these are some of the things Howard resident Theresa Bootz said her brother, Christopher Wendt, receives through Curative Connections’ Let’s Work program.
Wendt, 41, has Down syndrome, and until about two years ago he spent his days taking care of his mother.
“He has been a very good steward of taking care of my mother for all of his life,” Bootz said. “He came to me after the passing of my mom, and 21 days later he lost his father, and so, together, Chris and I have been trying to overcome a lot of our own obstacles. One of those things was being able to transition into something where I could make sure he was going to be living at his highest (potential). I wanted him to be doing the best that he can and have the opportunities that allow him to do that.”
Bootz said being Wendt’s guardian has been a learning curve.
“When I became (his) guardian, it makes it difficult to know what to do as a sibling,” she said. “Mom didn’t leave me instructions, because we lost her so suddenly, and I’ve had to figure that out. There is a lot of trial and error with someone with Down syndrome.”
She said Curative Connections, located at 2900 Curry Lane on Green Bay’s east side, and its programs, have given her brother a new sense of purpose.
“He is definitely my sunshine,” she said. “He cares about others, that is his nature. I can’t say enough good things about Chris. He wants to make the world a better place. He loves people. He has an attitude that is contagious and it is worth catching, especially during a time of a pandemic.”
Helping individuals with disabilities gain the skills needed to be a successful member of the working community is the goal of Curative Connections’ Let’s Work program.
“We provide the support each person needs to be successful,” Team Lead Sean Franken said. “We offer a person-centered approach to help each participant meet their goals, and work with them in stages to achieve success, so they are ready for community employment.”
With October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Franken said he hopes to shine a brighter light on the often untapped potential adults with disabilities can bring to the workforce.
To eliminate preconceived assumptions, he said Let’s Work provides classroom and hands-on learning for adults with disabilities as they transition into the working world.
“A lot of our clients who want to work for whatever reason have been told throughout their lives that their opportunities are limited as to what they can do,” he said, “So, when they come to our program, it really opens their eyes and the eyes of the organizations we partner with that really their opportunities are limitless. If they’re willing to work, they can do anything they want to do.”
Franken said Let’s Work partners – such as The NEW Zoo, Wisconsin Humane Society Green Bay Campus, Brown County Parks, St. Vincent De Paul and the Habitat for Humanity Restore – create opportunities where clients can work alongside members of the community.
He said clients learn a range of skills from cleaning and maintenance, to workplace etiquette and co-worker relationships.
Franken said the partnerships are key to the program’s success.
“Having this kind of work experience not only gives clients a chance to apply their skills, but allows them to create positive relationships with co-workers along the way,” he said.
Clients start out with hands-on classroom learning, which focuses on various work topics such as communication skills, appropriate social skills for the workplace, customer service skills and critical thinking and problem solving skills.
From there, participants transition into a volunteer setting, under the supervision of a job coach, and then onto paid work experience where participants work alongside community members in a real-life work setting.
Each client is supported by a case manager who develops goals as part of an individualized vocational plan.
Franken said there is no specific timeline for transition, with each client moving through the program at their own pace.
When they are ready, clients can move on from the program and work independently in the community.
Franken said not all clients reach that point, and continue with the program indefinitely.
Bootz said she is appreciative of the opportunities Curative Connections offers her brother.
“Chris doesn’t really understand, and is trying to understand that money comes from somewhere, and you get it somewhere and it gets the things you want and you have to earn it,” she said. “As he’s learning those basic skils, what he never really has is friends, and so from these programs, he’s able to take away a few friends, and I’m grateful for that.”
More information on Let’s Work and other Curative Connections programs can be found at curativeconnections.org.