BETHESDA-Ten years ago Karen Fisher saw "the need for a choice" and founded TEAM Consulting LLC. Since then, she is proud to say, her company has placed 500 developmentally disabled individuals into the job market.
Based in Old Washington, TEAM purchased a building in Bethesda in January to service a growing number of Belmont County clients. Here they are expanding their vocational rehabilitation services and developmentally disabled (DD) programs.
TEAM, which is nationally accredited, works with individuals who are disabled, underemployed or disadvantaged in offering training for work, work opportunities and life skills development. The for-profit agency works with employers to determine their needs and place appropriately skilled individuals in job openings. They also provide staff development in working with the disabled population.
T-L Photo/GLYNIS VALENTI
TEAM Consulting has a new Belmont County office. Members of the Bethesda TEAM include, left to right, Beth Wilson, program director; Tommie Lindell; Nick Barker; Karen Fisher, CEO; Ruby Erickson, direct care staff; Tim Rutter; Jody Graham.
Fisher owned a restaurant and employed a DD worker. When she decided to close the restaurant she urged the agency to place her employee in another position. That agency hired Fisher as a job coach where she gained experience and knowledge about the placement industry. "But I saw everyone going down the same path," she said. "They all ended up in the same places."
Her nephew, who is disabled, also needed more care when Fisher's brother passed away.
"He was not getting the necessary help regarding housing, life skills and direct care staff," she said.
Fisher decided to develop an agency that works with individuals' interests, skills and goals.
"Not everyone is suited or able to do the same thing every day," she noted. "At TEAM we create work."
TEAM's Life Essentials brand products can be purchased as gifts or sold as fundraisers. Workers make soaps, candles, bath products and stepping stones and package potpourri, essential oils, incense and spices. These are sold as separate products or combined into gift baskets. One of TEAM's clients is busy taking photos of the items and will be posting them on the sales website Etsy.com. Customers can order candies with custom wrappers, packaged by TEAM's clients, great for weddings, reunions or fundraising.
The daily curriculum is geared toward community inclusion with their Come ALIVE program: Active Living In Various Environments. Lessons involve vocation, education, inclusion/socialization, life skills and health and safety. TEAM will also be offering 10 weeks of summer day camps for ages 5 to 12 and 13 to 19 beginning June 4. Each will include activities in sports or physical activity, education and the arts.
The new building opens up more possibilities. A former restaurant/party facility, it's equipped with a commercial kitchen and flexible space options. Currently the room houses "stations" with computers, a Wii game area, an arts and crafts area, dining tables and a retail area. Fisher says TEAM may rent the space out for events, and TEAM's clients will be able to help clean, set up and take down as part of the service.
Beth Wilson, program manager at the Bethesda office, said that working closely with clients on an individual basis allows them to grow and develop their skills rather than sending them to a one-size-fits-all environment. Health issues for one client prompted Fisher to add an LPN to the staff who can administer necessary medications. For vocational rehab, where workers are employed in the community (retail, restaurants) TEAM assesses the job requirements and workforce to place candidates that will be most successful at the tasks.
For the waivered DD clients, TEAM finds or creates purposeful and productive tasks that empower individuals and give them a sense of accomplishment and contribution. Wilson tells the story of a man in Guernsey County who wanted to grow tomatoes, so TEAM helped him with gardening and plants.
"There were tomatoes everywhere," she laughed.
"We want people to know there are choices out there," added Fisher. "Even if clients spend two days a week here and three days at a facility they've been attending for years, they'll have the opportunity to meet new people and do other types of activities."
TEAM's programs are targeting the younger population coming out of school, serving Bridges clients ages 14 to 22.
Fisher is offering a one-time $500 cash scholarship to students this summer who can develop an effective marketing concept attracting persons with developmental disabilities to inquire about and tour the TEAM facilities.
TEAM is accredited by the Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF,) and Fisher is a national assessor for CARF herself. They hold certifications with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, Ohio Department of Mental Health, Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services and the Bureau of Vocational Rehab and are a Medicaid waiver provider. Fisher says she sees some exciting things happening in other parts of the United States and wants those same activities and programs for the Ohio Valley's DD population.
Fisher and Wilson pause, thinking about one of their current clients.
"He was placed at another facility and was non-verbal. He didn't interact, and other direct care providers wouldn't work with him because of his challenges and behavior," Fisher said. After less than one year at TEAM, the young man is not only talking but interacting with staff and other clients.
"His mother thinks we've done miracles," Fisher added. "When I asked her what she thought TEAM had done for her son she said, 'you gave him a voice.'"
Visit www.teamconsulting.org for information on TEAM Consulting's services. For information on the summer day camps, the marketing scholarship or a tour of the Bethesda TEAM office, contact Beth Wilson at (740) 484-4330.
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.