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Getting to Work in Kansas

By Sandra Aldana



As a California transplant to the Midwest, I have taken it upon myself to identify service agencies in my new home that provide case management, advocacy, and employment services to persons with disabilities. I’ve discovered several agencies that provide everything from case management to employment support. One such organization is Cottonwood, Inc.

I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Phil Bentzinger, Director of the JobLink program at Cottonwood, Inc. in Lawrence, Kansas. Cottonwood is a provider of employment, residential and support services for people with developmental disabilities. The JobLink program assists individuals in obtaining and retaining jobs in the community. It is one of the most successful supported employment programs in the greater Kansas City area. JobLink has recently expanded its services to include all people who experience barriers to employment, not just those with developmental disabilities. JobLink has employed approximately 170 people with more than 80 business partners. Mr. Bentzinger credits his hard working team for their success. Ten employment consultants maintain excellent business relationships in the community and assist clients with skill development.

Employment partners come from a variety sectors including food service and clerical services. Some partners include Arby’s, International House of Pancakes (IHOP), Lawrence Humane Society, NCS Pearson, and Bob’s Auto Maintenance. Mr. Bentzinger stated that NCS Pearson currently is the area’s largest recruiter, but due to the specialized skills they require, JobLink makes very few referrals to NCS Pearson. The University of Kansas, however, also works with JobLink. The University employs the largest number of people in the area. They have an ongoing relationship with JobLink and have hired several JobLink consumers.

Mr. Bentzinger introduced me to two women who have gained employment with JobLink. Katherine is very happy in her current position with the Lawrence Humane Society. She has been with them for four years and was recently promoted. She enjoys that her job allows her to work closely with the animals. “I love the animals so much, I even adopted one myself,” said Katherine. She also explained that she performs janitorial services and assists in caring for the animals. This includes petting the animals and showing them they are loved. Katherine’s work evaluations are always positive and emphasize her strong work ethic and positive attitude.

Jackie came to the JobLink program with a clear goal and was not willing to settle for anything less. She was very clear that she wanted to work with cars and did not want to take a position anywhere else. JobLink was able to place her at Bob’s Auto Maintenance. Jackie started at Bob’s doing janitorial work. Jackie now is taking on more responsibility. The owner of Bob’s has just given Jackie her own car to play with and take apart. He started giving her lessons on the parts and their function. “I have a car now, it’s my own to work on and I love it,” said Jackie.

Kansas’ Vocational Rehabilitation and other agencies provide services to marginalized groups including people with disabilities, but some community-based non-profits are offering interesting service supplements. Cottonwood’s JobLink program is one such example that has been a success. I hope this service model will be replicated elsewhere.

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