Jobs for the mentally disabled

Once trained, these workers are excellent employees

Increasingly, companies are hiring people with developmental delays or those who have a mental illness, and Jim Cassetta, CEO of Work, Inc., in Quincy, might have something to do with that. In any case, he is intent on making sure that trend continues.

The mission at Work, Inc., is simple. They help disabled and mentally ill people find and keep jobs. They provide job training, career coaching, job referrals, and give people the additional support they need to succeed. "We passionately believe that every person should have the opportunity to contribute, to be able to use their skills in a meaningful way. It's not about being dependent on public resources, it's the opposite. It's helping people become independent," says Cassetta.

Underlying the mission at Work, Inc., is the philosophy that many of their disabled clients, once they're trained and given responsibility, become excellent employees. "Companies are often surprised about the work ethic of my clients, says Cassetta. "It's better than most people's. They don't call in sick unless they really have to. They're actually happy to be employed."

When a client is referred to Work, Inc., usually from the Department of Mental Retardation and the Department of Mental Health, they are assigned to a career development specialist who assesses their skills to determine the best fit in the job marketplace. "I don't want all clients to be placed as baggers in supermarkets unless that's what they want to do," say Cassetta. "I want them to be able to have a career where they can move up, take on additional responsibility." He challenges his career development specialists to make that happen.

Jim Cawley, a senior career development specialist, says he typically spends up to a month getting to know each client, working closely with them to assess their job skills and help them with daily living issues. "If they don't know how to take the T, I'll go with them the first time to show them what to do. After that, I might follow them to make sure they have it."

"We passionately believe that every person should have the opportunity to contribute, to be able to use their skills in a meaningful way." - Jim Cassetta, CEO of Work, Inc.

Cawley says helping people secure a job is just the first step. To add true meaning to their lives, he wants to help them become independent. He tells of one client he placed in a supermarket job, his first job in 10 years. Once this client started making money, Cawley helped him with a savings plan.

First, he saved for a TV for his room. "He was spending all his money on Coke and Twinkies," says Cawley. "I showed him that if he saved $25 a week, he could get the TV." Cawley's client met the goal and kept saving. Now he has moved out of the group home and is living in his own apartment.

The other part of Cawley's job is to find the jobs. He does this by cold calling companies and explaining Work, Inc.'s, mission. "Some companies sign on because they are socially conscious and some have a real need for employees. Either way, once they've had a successful placement, they come back asking for more," he says.

Along with corporations, the federal government is a source for employees. Work, Inc., has clients placed in federal jobs all over the city. At the JFK Library, for example, the entire facility management services team comes from Work, Inc. "We have an electrician who is deaf and an HVAC tech with obsessive compulsive disorder. And I would match the maintenance team there with any agency in the state as far as the quality of their work," says Cassetta.