United Way Agency Spotlight: Work Opportunities

Jun 22, 2021

A job does so much more than just provide a paycheck. Many people find that working brings purpose and meaning to their lives. Jobs teach us new skills, build confidence and self-esteem, provide social interaction, and help us make new friends.

Unfortunately, many of our friends and neighbors face significant barriers to employment, including physical and mental disabilities that make it harder to navigate the job search and workplace environments. This is where Work Opportunities steps into help.

Everyone deserves a chance

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Work Opportunities supports adults with disabilities in finding and maintaining employment in Whatcom County. Having served folks in our community for over 10 years, their programs offer a wide range of services to a variety of clients. Work Opportunities partners with local employers to encourage diverse hiring and create new opportunities for people of all abilities, while helping their clients prepare for the work environment. Employment coaches are available at various stages of the employment cycle to make sure their clients are successful and employment relationships are mutually beneficial.

For younger clients, the focus is often on discovery and job preparation. These activities include shadowing different kinds of jobs and participating in informational interviews with businesses to discover work preferences before seeking a paid job.

Other clients need help with the actual job search process. In those cases, Work Opportunities assists with reaching out to local businesses, submitting applications, and attending interviews with clients to help secure that position. Once the client has been placed in a job, job coaching services facilitate a smooth transition by helping employees become comfortable in their new positions, assisting employers with accommodations, and helping clients advocate for themselves on the job.

All Work Opportunities’ services are provided with the ultimate goal of helping individuals with disabilities become more financially stable and fully integrated members of their workplace. Time and time again, they have seen what a big difference having a job can make for a person– financially, socially, and personally– by building self-worth and providing purpose.

Navigating COVID-19

During the pandemic, many Work Opportunities clients chose to take leave from work due to health concerns, as many of them are at a higher risk for severe illness. Because of this, the program shifted gears, providing more remote services while also communicating with business partners to ensure that clients would have their jobs when they were ready to return.

An increased focus was put on virtual mental health check-ins with clients as well as goal setting for when they are able return to work. Thankfully, Work Opportunities has many incredible business partners and very few of their clients experienced job loss.

For clients who were deemed essential workers, Work Opportunities continued to serve them in their jobs, increasing safety protocol, helping them adapt to new requirements in their jobs, and assisting with accommodations as needed.

As the shift to remote work happened, the Work Opportunities team got creative with client services to keep people engaged. This resulted in new remote services and team collaborations. For working clients who were on hold with their jobs, kits that mimic work tasks were created for in-home use, with coaching over Zoom to practice and keep skills sharp during the gap in employment. For other clients, weekly check-ins were conducted to make sure they were okay, building better client relationships in the process. Many clients indicated that it was very helpful just knowing they had someone to check in on them when they were unable to work.

Collaboration is key

In addition to collaborating with local employers, Work Opportunities loves connecting with other United Way partners. Many of their clients access services from several different United Way agencies, including The Arc of Whatcom County and Max Higbee Center. Work Opportunities clients have worked and volunteered at Brigid Collins, the YMCA, the Bellingham Food Bank, and the Whatcom Center for Early Learning. The support of local businesses and nonprofits is critical to the success of these programs.

United Way is proud to support programs that focus on giving Whatcom County residents the tools they need to be successful regardless of ability, race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or any other identity. Like you, we want to live in more equitable communities where everyone has the ability to thrive.

Thank you to Work Opportunities for providing job opportunities and employment support in our community. But more importantly, thank you for providing hope!

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