The Story of Job Squad Part I
Once upon a time there was a job advertised for a “Job Squad Project Trainer” in Clarksburg at what was called Summit Center and is now called United Summit Center. The position entailed recruiting, hiring, training, and employing individuals with psychiatric disabilities on a mobile grounds maintenance crew. The crew’s job was to mow grass in peoples’ yards. This was a small grant funded by DHHR that paid for me, the Project Trainer, and a few lawn mowers and weed eaters. That was in April 1984.
There were several problems with implementing the grant the way it was written. When meeting with the Division of Rehabilitation Service supervisors to tell them about the program and solicit referrals, I learned that the proposed method of payment of the workers – negotiating with the customers for a price – would be illegal. So then I consulted with the Department of Labor about who would be the employer of these individuals and how they would be paid for their work. I was told that I could try to obtain Special Wage Certificates or pay them minimum wage. We incorporated Job Squad in August of that year and it became Summit Job Squad.
The issue with paying the individuals was just one of the problems getting the program off the ground, but eventually it did get going, and I had a fine work crew of eight. We mowed and weeded and rode around in an old white bus with lawn mowers in the back. The workers were great, loved being outside, and were so excited to be earning money! The customers were pleased with our work. Mow, blow, and go!
Fast forward to 1993. Job Squad, the mobile grounds maintenance crew, no longer existed, due to the loss of grant monies. However, Summit Job Squad, Inc., the corporation, was still intact. It became the mechanism for paying people with psychiatric disabilities to operate a Drop-In Center. The peer run Drop-In Center was funded by another DHHR grant. For ethical reasons, Summit Center couldn’t employ its own clients. So Job Squad functioned as the employer, thus eliminating the conflict of interest. The center operated in the building where a clubhouse program met on week days. The peer supervisors were paid to organize and direct the Drop-In Center which operated evenings and weekends and was a huge success.
The FBI, CJIS Division, is setting up shop in Clarksburg and it is 1994. The FBI opted to participate in the JWOD Program which is now called the Ability One Program. This federal program provides that federal agencies purchase services or products from organizations that employ people with severe disabilities. The law requires that 75% of the direct labor hours must be performed by individuals with severe disabilities. The FBI wanted to purchase custodial services from a Community Rehabilitation Program or CRP and Summit Job Squad was chosen to be that CRP. The fact that Job Squad was selected for this choice contract was highly controversial. Other CRPs in the area were not happy because they had never heard of Job Squad, thought we were inexperienced, and were sure that we “would give the program a bad name”. Job Squad was selected by Source America because it was part of Summit Center which meant that there would be a critical infrastructure, client base, and financing for start-up. We were inexperienced but managed to successfully launch and manage the custodial contract at the FBI Center.
Summit Center helped us get started, but in 1996, Summit Center lost a large amount of Medicaid funding and was poised to declare bankruptcy when Summit Job Squad’s Board of Directors made the decision that Job Squad should legally separate from Summit Center. We changed our official name to Job Squad, Inc. and moved to an office building in Clarksburg.
Job Squad was awarded the Grounds Maintenance contract at the FBI Center in 1997. This was a smaller contract than the custodial contract, but included a Project Manager and a small engine mechanic. We purchased equipment for both FBI contracts with a no-interest $20,000 loan from Source America and a $10,000 low-interest loan from Harrison County United Way.
In 2003 Job Squad was asked by Source America to take over a contract at a federal courthouse in Martinsburg, WV. If we didn’t take it over, the contract would be taken off the Procurement List and would be obtainable by commercial companies. We agreed to try it for a while. A few months later Eastern Panhandle Training Center filed for bankruptcy, and this agency was in Martinsburg. After the bankruptcy there was no one to operate their 11 custodial contracts with the State. Since we already had a presence in the area, Job Squad was asked by the WV Association of Rehabilitation Facilities to quickly take over the operation of those contracts. We did assimilate them and hired the individuals with disabilities who were already working on the contracts. Maintaining the contracts in Martinsburg was difficult because of the distance – a three and a half hour drive - and the route over the mountains in unpredictable weather conditions, as well as the cost. After three years Job Squad facilitated the transfer of the contracts to the Developmental Workshop, a Community Rehabilitation Program that is closer to Martinsburg.
Brenda Hellwig, Executive Director