FYI, the Institute on Community Integration Staff Newsletter

April 2013

ICI Helping Faith Communities Support Employment of People with Disabilities

Faith communities are well known for providing their congregations with spiritual, emotional, and social supports. Less well known are the employment and career assistance that many faith communities also offer to their members, including members with disabilities. A new Institute on Community Integration (ICI) project, Putting Faith to Work, is looking at research-based ways to more fully equip faith communities to assist their members with disabilities in finding and keeping employment.

In 2012, four University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs) began collaborating to develop and test a model of employment supports in faith communities for members with disabilities. The centers are the Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University, the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, and ICI at the University of Minnesota. With a $50,000, 10-month grant from the Kessler Foundation, ICI was chosen from among the consortium partners as the site to pilot test this capacity-building model.

Putting Faith to Work, which began on February 1, will provide customized training, tools, and technical assistance to specific Minnesota faith communities, building their capacity to use best practices in employment and career development with their members with disabilities. It will utilize person-centered employment planning tools within the faith communities to connect participating members with disabilities to quality employment opportunities, and then enhance the communities’ ability to provide other appropriate, individualized supports to those individuals. It expands the reach of what faith communities do so well: acknowledge the gifts and needs of their members, maintain strong community connections, and address local community needs. This model supplements, rather than replaces, other service providers or employment agencies, contributing to development of a fuller range of formal and informal employment supports in local communities.

“There have been great advancements in employment services and supports for individuals with disabilities in the last two decades,” says project director Derek Nord. “Yet, today the labor force participation and employment rates of people with disabilities continue to lag far behind that of the general population. This is an unacceptable problem with far-reaching consequences for people with and without disabilities. Though there is no single solution, it is clear that we cannot ignore the role of ‘community’ in solving this problem. Faith communities have many assets. By helping to identify, harness, and build on these assets, we believe their members’ employment needs can be met.”

A number of Minnesota faith communities have already been recruited for the pilot study, and more are being sought from around the state. FFI on the project or possible participation, contact Derek at or 612-624-0386, or project staff Joe Timmons (, 612-624-5659) and Angela Amado (, 651-698-5565).