Cardinal Services’ Career Links Helps Those With Disabilities Find Community Employment

Pictured (L to R) are Drew Lyon, Cardinal Services employment services director; Scott Douglas Schaffer, Career Links client; Vikki Feldman, Lassus Handy Dandy store manager, North Webster; and Stephanie Johnson, Cardinal Services job developer. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

Editor’s note: March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. This is the second in a four-part series focusing on the programs offered by Cardinal Services.

NORTH WEBSTER – Lassus Handy Dandy store manager Vikki Feldman is so impressed with the employee she hired through Cardinal Services’ Career Links, she’s willing to hire more like him.

“I don’t regret it. I’d hire more. I just feel like everybody deserves to be equal. It’s the right thing to do,” Feldman said. “He’s absolutely an important role in our business here, I believe. He’s an important role to our daily functions, and I wouldn’t want to work without him.”

Scott Schaffer began working at the Lassus Handy Dandy, at the intersection of Ind. 13 and 500N, North Webster, in July 2019.

Career Links Employment Services Director Drew Lyon said Career Links is the employment branch of Cardinal Services.

“Our primary objective is assisting individuals with disabilities or other challenges in finding competitive, integrative employment,” Lyon said. “What I mean by that is community employment. They are getting hired, they’re getting the same type of jobs anyone else in the community would. They’re not being paid less because of any type of disability or challenge.”

Once Career Links assists an individual in finding a job, Lyon said Career Links then helps the individual “maximize their independence.” He said that’s a very involved process and Career Links works not only with the individuals they support, but also their supervisors in assuring the individuals’ job responsibilities are being completed daily, they’re showing up when they’re supposed to and that they understand the work they’re supposed to be doing.

Lyon said Career Links Job Developer Stephanie Johnson was able to assist Schaffer in getting a job at Lassus Handy.

“This is closer to where he lives, not too far from his house and is something he really enjoys doing,” Lyon said. Since Schaffer landed the job, Johnson has visited him on-site every week since to make sure he “upholds the standards he’s supposed to be doing. She stays in great communication with his manager, and Scott as well, and it’s just been a great fit. It’s allowed Scott to soar,” Lyon said. “Scott gets a lot of credit, too. He does fantastic work. He loves it here, and he really enjoys what he does.”

Since he started in July, Lyon said Schaffer’s responsibilities and independence at Lassus have grown. “He takes on a whole lot more than when he first started. We’re very proud of him for that. It’s a testament to his hard work and ability to really be successful,” Lyon said.

Cardinal Services Community Relations Director Michelle Boxell said, “I think one of the really great things about Career Links is the assistance it gives an employer in training individuals. If they’re struggling with something, or they’ve learned it and maybe aren’t doing it as well as they were once before, they will go back and retrain, because any employer will tell you, it’s training where they use up a lot of their time, their resources in retraining people. So, the fact that Cardinal, specifically Career Links, is able to supply that … their employers love us.”

Lyon said between Kosciusko, Marshall, Cass and Fulton counties, Career Links has about 75 individuals placed in community jobs, “and that doesn’t include those we are helping support in a job right now, and those we’re providing support for in the school system as well – kind of training them up for what it’s going to look like when we get out.”

Boxell said that number also doesn’t include people that were placed a long while back who are no longer receiving the support services.

In the last fiscal year, Lyon said Career Links provided support to 350 individuals.

While certain places in the community still are a little leery of hiring individuals with disabilities, and might have misconceptions about people with disabilities, Lyon said for the most part, “The community employers we work with are so receptive to our program and what we do. They allow us to go in there and spend time with the individual. They very much want that process to happen because, ultimately, what they want to see is employees that they’re hiring that No. 1 will do their job and do it well, but No. 2 they will be consistent and show up when they’re supposed to. They won’t take for granted they have a job.”

He said the retention rate is “incredibly high” when a good employer to work with is found and the job fit is right. Lyon said Schaffer is a good example of an employee who shows up to work on time and who does his job the way he’s supposed to do it. “That just provides a comfort to an employer knowing they don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen when he comes in because they know that what he’s supposed to do will get done, and it’s one last burden on their back in that regard,” Lyon said.

Some of the other Career Links employers have included AVI (Zimmer Biomet Food Service), Bob Evans, Culver’s, Grace Village, McDonald’s, Owen’s Supermarket, Meijer, Tecomet and Wildman to name a few.

Boxell said, “I think it’s a little easier now as more people are becoming employed and employers, if they’re not one of our employers, there’s visibility. They see someone.”

As an example, Boxell said there was a Career Links client working in a fast food restaurant and some guys from Tecomet went to lunch there. They saw the client interacting with everyone else and wondered why they weren’t hiring through Career Links as they had many openings to fill. They contacted Lyon and the “ball got rolling,” Boxell said.

Lyon said Career Links placed over five clients at Tecomet in a three-year period, “which is really good.” He said that’s an example of visibility helping Career Links.

Because of Schaffer’s success at Lassus, another client started there in late 2019.

Johnson said, “I give so much praise to Lassus and Vikki, their manager. She hired Scott, and then I had a gentleman come in and interview for Elmo’s, to work there. It was just too fast paced. … So, Vikki overheard us doing the interview and she texted me and said she’d like to talk to me about that individual. So she created a position for him. … He’s just excelling also, so that’s why I praise this store, this management team, because they’re just so wonderful. They really appreciate him. Scott is a part of the family now.”

On working at Lassus, Schaffer said, “I’ve always enjoyed working here. Vikki and the assistant managers are great to work with. As well as the Elmo’s crew. They treat me as one of their own, fist bumps. They’re really great to me. There’s not one bad instance whatsoever. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, just trying to find that right fit, and not all jigsaw puzzles are made alike.”