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How Individuals With Disabilities Are Benefiting From the Community Based Work Program

August 27, 2021  |  Permalink

This summer, Hayes Otello has become a regular face at Paris Landing State Park. While park visitors may have seen him around keeping the park clean, what they don’t know is that this is the first work experience Hayes has ever had.

His story is a great example of how the vocational rehabilitation program (VR) is transforming Tennessee’s approach of helping individuals with disabilities reach their employment goals. For the last two years, the Division of Rehabilitation Services has been working to transform the program from generalized center-based services to community-based services that focus on the individual and their career goals.

Hayes Outside With Park Rangers at Paris Landing State PArk

A big part of that individualized focus is a change to something called Community Based Work Training. For Hayes, that means work training on the job at Paris Landing State Park instead of the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center in Paris.

Before the Community Based Work Program was active, individuals would have visited one of the 17 community Tennessee Rehabilitation Centers (TRC) across the state to receive employment assistance and training. These centers were established in the 1960s to serve individuals with disabilities in rural counties who might not otherwise have access to employment services. Training consisted of work provided by local businesses that could be completed within the Rehabilitation Centers. While this training provided an entryway to employment, it wasn’t catered to the individual’s interests or employment goals.

In 2018, an amendment to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act opened the door for VR to be innovative in the way they offer services to individuals with disabilities. Guided by the mission to help all individuals reduce their need for assistance and allow everyone the same opportunity to work in their community, VR embarked upon a transformation. Today, the program is transforming to emphasize person-centered, individualized services and, with that, the Rehabilitation Centers have been able to modernize their service delivery model.

David Parrish, manager of the TRC in Paris said, “Before the transformation, Hayes probably would have come into our shop and worked here for a period of time, and then we would have tried to place him. With our transformation, on the front end, we’re looking more deeply into what he wants to do.”

Hayes Driving a Golf Cart With a Park Ranger at Paris Landing State Park

The path to employment through the Community Based Work Program starts with finding out what the individual wants to do. For Hayes, this process took place during the pandemic and was facilitated virtually by a staff member at the Paris Rehabilitation Center. Together they completed virtual job shadowing, worked through communication challenges, and even prepared Hayes for a driver's license exam.

Through this process, he discovered an interest in machinery and the outdoors that led to obtaining his OSHA certification. VR staff then connected with Paris Landing State Park to establish a paid internship for Hayes. This experience allowed him to work in a real setting and figure out if this was the field he wanted to pursue. It also provided another important advantage—the type of people he worked with.

“These individuals should be receiving training in the community because that’s where they’re going to end up working. They should be in an integrated and competitive setting.” said Selina Kirkland who oversees the 17 community Tennessee Rehab Centers.

For Hayes, the hope is that this work-based training someday leads to a permanent job at the park, furthering his long-term goal of carrying his own weight.

Hayes Outside With a Staff Member at Paris Landing State Park

Hayes stated, “I want to live independently because I don’t want to rely on people taking care of me. I want to live independently on my own and make positive changes in my life. Hard work and determination lead to success.”


Want to learn more or get involved?

The Vocational Rehabilitation Program assists individuals with disabilities with their employment goals. If you’re interested in the services that VR provides you can learn more by calling their mainline at (615)-313-4891.

Callers should provide their county of residence to be paired with their local office and begin the application process. VR serves all 95 counties and operates Tennessee Rehabilitation Center services in 17 of the counties. You can visit their website here.

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