3/23/2013 10:00:00 PM WORKING SOLUTION: Ticket to Work program provides opportunities for disabled people
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier Wayne Owens drives the van for the Ticket to Work program that New Horizons operates. It provides employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Ken Hedler The Daily Courier
PRESCOTT VALLEY - Wayne Owens spent 35 years in the materials field and utilities contracting until a back injury sidelined his career four years ago.
Owens, a U.S. Army veteran who turns 59 Monday, said he moved here from Seattle a year ago to obtain services from the Bob Stump VA Medical Center in Prescott, "and I decided to stay."
He tried to return to the work force, and applied for a number of jobs. After getting nowhere, he learned from an acquaintance about the Ticket to Work program that New Horizons Independent Living Center in Prescott Valley administers through a contract with the U.S. Social Security Administration.
New Horizons' employment network coordinator, Cynthia Morton, placed Owens about eight months ago in a job as a driver who takes New Horizons' clients to medical appointments and other errands as far away as Chandler. He works 35 to 38 hours a week, and attends Yavapai College, where he is pursuing an associate's degree in occupational health and safety.
Owens also is able to keep his Social Security disability and Medicare benefits while he works for New Horizons. He added he plans to stay for the five-year duration of the Ticket to Work program.
"That is one of the beauties, working with him for five years," Morton said.
Owens is doing a good job, said his immediate supervisor, Larry Richards, the interim transportation supervisor for New Horizons.
"He is a good worker," Richards said. "If he did not tell anybody he's disabled, you wouldn't know."
Owens said he is "blessed" with the arrangement.
"It's helping me understand my disabilities and interact with people," Owens said. "Pardon the expression from Forrest Gump. It is like a box of chocolates. You don't know who you are going to meet."
He continued, "I am comfortable now. I like my position."
Owens is one of about 30 clients of New Horizons whom Morton oversees. She said she received referrals from the Arizona Department of Economic Security, the Northern Arizona Council of Governments, and other social service and government agencies.
She said participants range in age from 22 to 63 and have a variety of disabilities, including amputations and mental illness.
Morton said she has placed nine participants in jobs, and six await jobs. She has helped to place them in jobs such as caregivers, as assemblers, cashiers and clerical work.
Besides job placement, Morton said she offers services to make her clients more marketable. The services include classes in resume writing, applying for jobs online, writing cover letters and interviewing skills.
"The Ticket to Work program really takes the fear away of going back to work," she said.
Ticket to Work is attractive to employers because Morton said she has screened her clients for skills needed for a job.
"The incentive for the employers is they have employees who are eager and willing, dedicated and grateful," she said. "I want an applicant that is dedicated."
However, Morton acknowledges she has a major task in educating employers who have misconceptions about people with disabilities.
"They fear clients with disabilities will not show up to work, that it will cost them a lot of money for a reasonable accommodation," she said.
An example of an accommodation is enabling a Ticket to Work participant to visit the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale once a month for medical follow-up, Morton said.
Ticket to Work participants do not need more supervision than their able-bodied peers, according to Morton.
Morton said some employers mistakenly fear their health insurance premiums will increase even though Ticket to Work participants have coverage through Medicare or the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
"The best thing any employer can do is pick up the phone and call me," she said.
For more information, call Morton at 772-1266, extension 309.