Just past the front doors of Burrell Developmental Services Bolivar’s office waits a lobby full of color, stimulating puzzles and activities. 

The space is designed, along with the rest of the building south of Bolivar, to help individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities piece together interpersonal relationships and job skills as staff there guides them down a path toward independence and possible employment in the community. 

It marks a change for a workspace that previously saw individuals with disabilities employed to build products for Teters Floral and will now be helped as they pursue jobs and independence in the community. 

The building has sat quiet since July 2018, said Becky Millard, vice president of Burrell Developmental Services.  

Burrell, and before it the Springfield Workshop Foundation, contracted with Teters to employ 20-30 individuals with disabilities to construct flower cones, Millard said, paying its workers a rate based on the number of cones they produced.

Burrell took over the contract about eight years ago and held it until Teters announced plans to close in July 2018, said Tina Zeagler, the director of Burrell Working Solutions, now known as Burrell Developmental Services Bolivar. 

“The problem with that model is it’s based on the economy and how much industry you have based in your town,” Zeagler said. “All of our eggs were in one basket with Teters. When Teters went down, we were left wondering what we were going to do with these people.”

Millard said staff opted to make a move they’d been eyeing for some time, converting the service from a sheltered workshop to now offer two programs — supported employment and day habilitation. Burrell will offer both programs for the first time in Polk County. 

Both focus on helping individuals with mental and developmental disabilities build relationships and job skills to pursue independence and employment.

It took more than a year to gain the necessary approvals from regulatory agencies to make the switch, Millard said. 

The U.S. Department of Labor and Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education governed the workshop and approved the piece rate payment plan, Millard said. 

“We’d tell everybody we interviewed at the workshop that we wanted them to get the job experience here and then go get community employment,” Millard said. “That has always been the philosophy that has touched Burrell Working Solutions.”

Over time, she said several workers were able to move on from the workshop and into jobs in the community after gaining experience in a work setting. 

“They did learn a lot of skills, like clocking in and clocking out and how you check in to take a break and have a lunch hour,” she said. “It was good for them, but we’re able to do more for them now.”

Zeagler said part of supported employment includes building a basis of knowledge about what jobs include and how to handle them. 

The program is funded through the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Division of Developmental Disabilities.

Job coaches are assigned for each individual and can help with finding strengths and weaknesses. The hurdles can be as deep as communications issues or as straightforward as advice on what to wear to an interview or how to build a resume. 

“That’s actually really a huge hurdle for some of our people who absolutely can work in this community and would otherwise have no problem with it,” she said. “It’s just that hurdle of a new job that all of us really deal with. If they have a little bit of extra help while they're learning the job and learning to communicate with their coworkers, they can be very successful. I think our community has been very open and accepting to that.”

She said staff has been encouraged by Gov. Mike Parson’s initiative to seek status for Missouri as a model employer — a national mentorship program that helps individuals with disabilities find work.

“That really enforced with us that this is a good thing, the direction that we’re moving,” she said. 

Job coaches can help by finding the individuals friends and support networks at their jobs, sticking around as long as they’re needed to help the process of integrating into work setting.

Meanwhile, day habilitation helps those who aren’t quite ready to clock in, Millard said. 

“Some of our activities will be geared toward those thinking they might want employment,” she said. “It may not necessarily be that they will ever work, but the idea of learning soft skills to get to employment is really what we’re going to work on with that side of it. It’s an opportunity for them to get to community employment if they would like to.”

Burrell has 12 spots open for its day habilitation service, she said, and so far, it’s limited to Polk County. 

Despite having campuses in Springfield, Zeagler said Burrell opted to debut its employment support and day habilitation services in Bolivar, a community she said that’s helped individuals with developmental disabilities find places to work and belong. 

“We want it to be successful, and we want to show how much we appreciate Polk County,” she said. “Right now, we’re not expanding it into Greene County. Everybody thinks you want to start in the bigger place, but we felt like this was the right place to start.”

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