Sep 5, 2017

supporting people with disabilities mec team members chatting over coffee

Posted on Sep 05, 2017


In its 25 years of services, the Minnesota Employment Center (MEC) for People Who are Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing has assisted more than 2,000 men and women plan their careers, find great jobs, and retain successful employment.

MEC was co-established by Rise, Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), and Lifetrack Resources, Inc. in 1993.

Two years ago, MEC was able to expand its customized services across the state with funding from the Minnesota State Legislature; it received funding for another year in July 2017.

With its main office in St. Paul serving people in the Twin Cities metro area, MEC occupational communication specialists (OCS) now have offices throughout the state.

Mary Soltis serves people in the northeast corner of the state with an office in Duluth; Wendy June works in southern Minnesota with an office in Faribault; Caitlin Lashbrook serves people in the west-central area from an office in St. Cloud; and Rebecca Benke works in the northwest corner with an office in Moorhead.

“We are excited to bring the full range of MEC services to people in Greater Minnesota,” said MEC Program Coordinator Blaine Newberg.  “Many of the people we are currently working with in smaller Minnesota towns have not had the kinds of specialized services they need to be successful in the workforce.  More than 160 people have accessed MEC’s customized career planning, job placement, occupational communication, and follow-up support services in the past two years through this expansion. That’s exciting.”

“The OCSes work hand-in-hand with professionals from other local agencies and Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) offices to ensure that each individual gets the services they need to be successful in the workplace,” said Service Team Leader Sheila Ritter.

People served by MEC are working in a wide range of industries, including welding, graphic design, advertising, car detailing, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing, to name just a few.
Having earned a two-year degree in machine technology and working in various machinist positions since the mid-1990s, Joe Jesme was pleased to find a good job with Talon Innovations Corp. in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. He works on Swiss lathe machines to produce small, intricate parts for semiconductor equipment.

When Joe was originally hired more than a year ago, his VR counselor, Barb Smith, suggested he connect with MEC for job coaching and follow-up support services. He meets twice a month with Caitlin to address any work-related concerns.

Joe is hard of hearing and communicates primarily with American Sign Language (ASL); at work, he communicates by lip-reading and writing brief notes back and forth. With good co-workers and a supportive supervisor, Joe says that Talon is a great place to work and doesn’t even mind much the 100-mile roundtrip each day!

Earlier this year, Blaine and Sheila presented about MEC at a nationwide conference sponsored by the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association (ADARA) held in Portland, Ore. After meeting people from across the country, they realized there is not likely another program in the U.S offering the full range of customized employment-related services for people who are Deaf, Deafblind, and hard of hearing as does MEC.

For more information, contact Blaine at; 651-265-2429; VP: 651-998-8660.

This article appears in the September 2017 issue of the Rise Reporter.

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