Partnership to help disabled join work force

Nonprofits get grant to start pilot program

September 10, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Two organizations that help disabled people with financial assistance and job training are teaming up at Carroll County's new nonprofit center in Westminster.

In a new partnership, Wellness Employee Service Transfer Inc. (WEST) and Catastrophic Health Planners Inc. recently secured a $51,000 grant from the state's human services agency to help disabled people, those who have experienced catastrophic events and those who suffered life-threatening illnesses enter the work force.

"We have had grants before, but this brings in another piece in helping those that can work get to work," said Esther Davis, who founded WEST in 1999 and still operates a satellite office in Towson.

The partnership will become particularly pertinent on Oct. 1, organizers said. That's when a new law goes into effect requiring more welfare recipients, even those who are disabled, to seek employment.

An additional $50,000 could be directed to employers who hire and train the program's participants, said Lou Yeager, Catastrophic Health Planners' director. Each could receive a $2,500 incentive 90 days after hiring a participant, Davis said.

It's a pilot program that Yeager and Davis hope will expand across the state.

"There's no one else in the state that does what we do," Yeager said.

Since relocating WEST to Carroll County in December, Davis said she has struggled to gain a foothold in the community.

Her psychological and career counseling program has assisted Hurricane Katrina victims living in Essex and low-income youths in Baltimore, she said.

Catastrophic Health Planners provides medical assistance, drug discounts, food, legal services and cars to clients. Located in Finksburg since 1991, the organization assists the disabled and terminally ill.

The organization serves 250 patients a month in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia, Yeager said.

Yeager and Davis have something else in common: Both have had serious illnesses that affected their own capacity to work.

Diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1986, Yeager left his job with a defense contractor. After rebounding from a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy, he started helping others who have lost their livelihood because of illness.

"My whole life, my priorities and values changed," Yeager said. "Before it was a matter of how much money I could make. Now it's a matter of how many people I can help."

Until 15 years ago, Davis worked as a field manager for cable television companies.

She grew overwhelmed with the stress of the job, temporarily lost her memory and was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.

"I had this disability, but there was no program to give support for working individuals," Davis said. "There should have been more programs for people who had impairments but could still work. There was no program for that, but still you couldn't get approved for disability [benefits]."

Davis' contacts with corporations and job training programs will expand Catastrophic Health Planners' reach, Yeager said.

The Toyota Corp. has already donated $1,000 to the effort.

Yeager had heard that WEST -- his neighbor in the non-profit center -- had a tough time securing funds in Westminster. He told Davis he would help her make it.

"When you're disabled, it doesn't mean you're dead. It just limits the things you can do. People always need self-worth and a reason to wake up in the morning," Yeager said.

WEST and Catastrophic Health Planners will hold a forum for any interested businesses on Sept. 28 at 8:30 a.m. at the Carroll Non-Profit Center, 255 Clifton Blvd. For more information, call 410-861-8969.

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