WCI members in transition
Community Care speaks to county board
By Robert Cloud
While Waupaca County Industries (WCI) is closing its doors, Community Care is working to place its members.
WCI, which provided a sheltered workshop for disabled adults in Manawa since 1989, is set to close Friday, Dec. 29.
The county-run facility had a service contract with Community Care and chose not to continue that service because revenues no longer covered rising costs.
Nancy Leipzig, a regional program director with Community Care, spoke to Waupaca County supervisors Tuesday, Dec. 19.
“For our members who have been participants at WCI, this is a sad event,” Leipzig said. “We are definitely working to support members and families to help with whatever the transition is.”
WCI provided work and services, including transportation, to 72 adults.
Leipzig said Community Care has been meeting with providers in Waupaca, Amherst, Stevens Point, Clintonville, Shawano and Appleton to find work for the WCI members.
In the Amherst and Waupaca areas, Community Care is working with Cahoots Day Services, which has agreed to expand and provide transportation and programming for 13 WCI members.
Through a pre-vocational program run by Valley Packaging Inc., of Appleton, between 14 and 20 people will work at Sturm Foods in Manawa.
“Sturm will continue to have two production lines running on site with participants and rehab staff through Valley Packaging,” Leipzig said. “Once they get this up and running and get all the logistics and the transportation figured out, they are hoping to open a third line at Sturm Foods, as well as lines up in Clintonville at Creative Converting.”
Leipzig said Valley Packaging held a meeting with WCI participants who worked at Sturm, and most of them have signed on to work either four or five days a week.
“Those individuals will be considered full-time employees of Valley Packaging and will be making at least minimum wage and up to $9.50 an hour,” she said.
DEN Services is a nonprofit group that helps disabled adults remain independent and live within their own communities. Seven WCI members will receive job coaching with DEN Services.
Leipzig said five members are ready to work within the community and will apply with the Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Valley Packaging may place some members in a sheltered workshop setting in Appleton, but transportation issues limit this opportunity to only those living in the New London area.
“I think for folks on the east side of the county, that will be doable. When we get to the center and west side of the county, that is probably going to be unlikely,” Leipzig said.
She said Community Care continues to meet with area employers to find places for the remaining members.
Of the 72 members, 11 are age 60 or older. Some of these members have decided to retire.
“We’ve charged our staff to go back to each one of our members and really talk about what are their outcomes and what are their goals and develop services that will help them meet those goals,” Leipzig said.
During a board meeting on Dec. 4, Supervisor Bob Flease of Mukwa raised concerns about how closing WCI would affect members and their families.
At the Dec. 19 meeting, Flease said he appreciated Community Care’s efforts to meet with parents, answer their questions and alleviate their concerns.
He also noted a mother had called him and asked if her son would lose his Social Security benefits once he started to work full time.
Leipzig replied that those working at Sturm Foods would be making minimum wage and should not lose their benefits.
“There will be some folks who, because they have a higher income, their Social Security benefit may decrease, but net, they still will make more money,” Leipzig said.
Supervisor Joyce Boyer of Waupaca asked if there would be a sheltered workshop in the city of Waupaca.
Leipzig responded that Community Care will not have a workshop but it is interested in developing community-based pre-vocational services, perhaps with Fox Valley Technical College.
“I know someone that probably wouldn’t do well in the community, at a business, and she is in Waupaca,” Boyer said. “What will happen if you can’t place this person somewhere?”
“The first thing we did was go through our roster of participants and identify who was at risk on Jan. 2. Who do we need to address immediately because they can’t be home alone,” Leipzig said. “If she was on our list of really high needs, if she’s a Community Care member, we’ll have a place for her to go.”
Chuck Price, director of the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services, told county supervisors two recently introduced state bills exemplify the national shift away from workshops and into community-based employment.
If enacted, the Employment First bill would require state agencies to set benchmarks and goals to increase hiring of people with disabilities.
The Partners with Business bill provides training to employers so they can train existing worker to support an employee with a disability.