Submitted By: Molly Little, CEO, The Arc of Delaware County (Delarc)
In Delaware County in New York State, The Arc of Delaware County (Delarc) has been tackling the staffing crisis in a variety of ways. One successful initiative has been FwdBound, a paid internship geared towards 15–18-year-old young adults. FwdBound interns a set of helpful hands, working directly with our direct support professionals (DSPs), while learning all about the organization and the field. We follow all Department of Labor rules and regulations, and have been delighted with the energy these young, bright minds bring to Delarc.
The Impact Of The Program
The FwdBound Internship Program is relatively new to Delarc, but it has been very successful. Two interns worked with us until their graduation from high school in June 2023, and both of them signed on to be substitute staff for us during their college breaks, and want to work for us full time in the summer. That is a win! It has been wonderful to see the relationships made between interns, and self-advocates and staff. The youthful energy has been exciting. The interns have also told their friends about the paid internship, and we currently have applications of possible FwdBound interns wanting to start at Delarc in the fall.
FwdBound interns cannot work alone, but they are very helpful to DSPs, as they join along on recreation/respite trips, help out in houses, hang out with people we support, and bring new ideas to the agency. One intern loves to play guitar, and he befriended a man we support who has dementia. The Intern brings his guitar to go visit the person, and they play and sing and don’t have a care in the world. The man with dementia unpacked his guitar from storage, and he keeps it on his lap when the intern is visiting. It truly is life enhancing.
Steps To Implement A Similar Initiative
We were afraid of the limitations of a paid internship, but it is not scary after all. Replication of a paid internship would not be difficult. Assessing if there is a need and an interest from the team would be a great first step. The interns are young, and they need a supervisor/mentor or ‘go to’ person assigned to them. If that level of support is available, replicating the internship is a matter of creating the vision and steps to operationalize it. The Department of Labor has regulations. The interns do not drive for us, pass medications, work too many hours, or stay late on school nights. But what they can do for us has been wonderful for Delarc and for the interns themselves.
Here are some of the specific steps Delarc took to start its FwdBound Internship program:
- Brainstorm what the intent of the internship program. At Delarc, we gathered staff members and self-advocates as we assessed if interns could help us solve the staffing crisis.
- Capture in writing the ‘who, what, where, why, when, and how’ of the internship. We mapped out the high-level vision of the program, and the nuts and bolts needed to get it started.
- Advertise to the schools and on social media. We asked guidance counselors at all 13 Delaware County school districts to inform students of this opportunity and encourage them to apply. We also had staff tell their friends and family, and we did a social media push.
- Hire the interns and orient them. The internships are person-centered, and we work with students closely. We are flexible as their schedules change with sports seasons, musical and drama club rehearsals, etc.
- Support the interns on-going, and solicit their input. These young minds have offered us tremendous insights on ways to be more technologically savvy, and how to spread the message of “disability rights are human rights.”
- Encourage employment in the future. Interns are eligible to be with us until they reach the age of 18 and receive a high school diploma. After they graduate, they then can consider employment with us.
At first, we had zero interest from 15–18-year-olds. We were surprised. But we learned pretty quickly that age group is busy, and they didn’t jump on the idea the first time they heard about it. Once we had two successful interns, the ball got rolling. One other minor challenge for us has been that the interns cannot help much in day programs as the hours do not work with the interns’ schedules. But that is ok, as their help in other parts of the agency has been invaluable.
About The Arc of Delaware County (Delarc)
The Arc of Delaware County is one of the country’s most progressive and unique organizations supporting children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For nearly five decades, we have been committed to a person centered, proactive philosophy and positive approach with a Board of Director’s policy prohibiting the use of aversive behavior techniques including physical restraints. From the way we care for the people we support to the way we treat our colleagues, everything we do is built on an atmosphere of caring without restraint.
You can learn more about Delarc by visiting the organization’s website: https://delarc.org/
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Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.
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