Audit: Md Disabilities Administration makes improvements

BALTIMORE - In Wednesday’s class, Zina Barr’s students are concentrating on one major topic.

Self-esteem.

“What does this word mean to you,” she said. “Tell me something you have done well.”

For Seth Burdine, it was bettering his speech during speaking engagements.  He hopes to be an advocate for those with disabilities.

For Ryan Mason, it was teaching others how to use the computer.

And Ronnie Hamilton joked it was throwing around the football, as he really enjoys watching the Baltimore Ravens.

Barr’s class meets every day in a tiny classroom in Hunt Valley through the Career Catalyst program set up through The Arc Baltimore, an advocacy nonprofit that provides outreach for those with disabilities.

With just eight students enrolled, the new program, which started in April, focuses on helping adults with disabilities get vocational and job skill training.

Career Catalyst is just one of many job-training programs around the state that counts on operating funds from the Maryland’s Developmental Disabilities Administration.

For years, the agency has been plagued with many financial issues. The concern was grave, so state officials stepped in and implemented a restructuring plan.

Just months after a report rated the DDA unsatisfactory, state auditors  say the organization has corrected many of its flaws that cost taxpayers millions of dollars in funding.

“If DDA continues to implement its corrective action plan for all findings….our next audit should result in an improved accountability and compliance rating,” the report said. 

With a positive outcome, leaders at The Arc Baltimore are looking forward to a better working relationship with the DDA.

“We’ve always worked well together,” said Sylvester Bieler, director of day services for The Arc Baltimore. “When protocols get better, this helps the people we serve.”

According to Maryland's Office of Legislative Audits, an update released Tuesday said the DDA has collected $2.2 million of the $5.5 million it had lost.

Related: Restructuring the DDA

With a new executive director, Dr. Bernard Simons, the agency is also restructuring services in an effort to help the state’s 24,000 disabled residents get more “self directed” guidance.

“We want to make sure they can explore their options,”said Terri Spurrier, director of the Career Catalyst program. “To help them find a job that fits with their goals and skills.”

In just four months, the program has already found employment for two students, and a third placement is in the works. Spurrier hopes to have 20 people enrolled by November.

“When it comes to self direction, it’s listening to what the person wants and matching that skill set to an internship,” she said.

When a student is accepted into the program, they attend daily vocational classes. From there, they are placed in an internship matched up with their skill set.

To ensure the transition into the work environment goes smoothly, an employment support specialist works with the students to help out at the internship location.

Jean Buckler said she has been cross trained in many different job skills.

“I’m there to help as needed,” she said. “The timing can range to a few months, to just a few weeks.”

Aimee Eliason, 23, said Career Catalyst helped her finally land a job she could see herself at long term.

Last month, the Lutherville resident was offered a clerical position at Miller’s Minuteman Press, a printing company in Hunt Valley.

“I had been in different jobs for a while, but nothing quite fit,” she said. “I like it here because my dad worked in printing. It reminds me a lot of my childhood.”

Rebecca Yarrison, human resources director for Miller’s Minuteman Press, said she hopes to continue providing internships through Career Catalyst.

“Our hope is to expand and help provide work skills, “ she said. “The support The ARC provides to those it serves is tremendous.” 

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