Letter to the Editor: Support Local Businesses that Support the Disabled

How one Sammamish business owner is making a big difference in the life of a person with a disability.

Jan Lawrence, owner of plays an integral part in Supported Employment.  You see I am the Vocational Job Developer for Sound Mental Health and without Jan’s help one of my clients, Shawn, would not be making the progress he is today. 

Supported Employment helps people with mental illnesses find and keep meaningful jobs in the community. Shawn wanted a job. He wanted to start feeling good about having a job and his treatment team knew that if Shawn had a job he would start seeing himself in a more positive way. Jan provided Shawn with this opportunity.  His job is one day a week for two hours. Not much, you might say, but this job provides Shawn with structure and routine. His small income gives him more choices about what to buy and where to live.     

You see Shawn, has become a new person. He has something to look forward to each week. He went from a very unkempt, poor hygiene, depressed state, to taking a shower, taking pride in his appearance and smiling. He loves to come over to Bellevue to work at Via Vita Café.

Jan saw the value in Supportive Employment. According to the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health: State of the art treatments, based on decades of research, are not being transferred from research to community settings.  Jan is one of those rare finds who is allowing Sound Mental Health to transfer research into a community setting.

I do not find clients job by filling out an application or answering a Help Wanted Sign. I find my clients employment by being actively involved in the community just as Jan is. We are both members of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce.  I am also a member of Rotary. Even as a struggling new business, Jan saw the value of having a person with a disability become part of her staff.

To Shawn it is not really about his small paycheck, it is about feeling good about himself, that he can do a task that is meaningful and he is being helpful.  This one day a week for two hours gives him something to look forward to all week long. He loves taking the bus from Seattle over to Bellevue. He says the water is always so pretty when he comes to work. For just 120 minutes out of an entire week, Shawn gets out of the house and becomes a contributing member to society.

You may be asking what the benefits of supported employment are. The benefits of supported employment include:

  •  Real employment provides an opportunity for long-term dignity, a chance at upward mobility, and an opportunity to break out of the perpetual problem of unemployment and underemployment.
  • It is estimated that supported employment participants earn nearly $600 million annually and pay over $100 million each year in federal, state, and local taxes.
  • The percentage of people dependent on public assistance/disability benefits as their primary source of income drops dramatically as a result of participation in supported employment. The result is that 52% of participants' primary income is their paycheck, rather than public assistance or disability benefits.
  • Individuals with disabilities participating in supported employment increased their annual earnings 490%. On average, hourly earnings increased from $0.84 to $4.13.

I encourage everyone to shop at businesses, especially small business that supports Supportive Employment. If you are a small business owner and want to be part of Supportive Employment,

Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program, employers can claim a tax credit on their federal taxes for each qualifying new hire. For a person in Supported Employment during their first year of employment the tax credit is up to $2,400 for a qualifying worker. If you would like to learn more about how your business can participate please contact: Linda Panattoni, M.Ed; Vocational Job Developer; Soundworks a Division of Sound Mental Health; 206-245-5737 or email: lindap@smh.org

Editor's note: Jan Lawrence is a Sammamish resident who operates ViaVita Café and Wine Bar in Bellevue. Bellevue Patch last year.



Kim Hilliker September 14, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Thanks for supporting the community!
Jeanne Gustafson September 14, 2012 at 08:51 PM
I concur, Kim. Jan is a treasure. You should check out ViaVita for a great meal, too!
Dawn Sanders September 15, 2012 at 01:06 PM
ViaVita is a wonderful place. My husband and I have gone there several times. I wish we could encourage more businesses to use disabled workers. They offer so much to the work place, the joy they have in being able to hold a position (even a volunteer position) creates such a wonderful atmosphere for all of their co-workers. I am working with a young man now that would make a wonderful employee. A real people person who can remember names better than anyone I know. I would love to find a spot for him. Several Sammamish business currently do hire disabled workers - we need to be sure to thank them and Jan for making a difference.
Jeanne Gustafson September 15, 2012 at 02:15 PM
That is great information, Dawn thanks. For anyone who doesn't know, Dawn is the volunteer coordinator for the city of Sammamish. You can find her contact info at the city website here if you know someone who might be interested in hiring someone with a disability in Sammamish or Issaquah: http://www.ci.sammamish.wa.us/about/ContactUs.aspx


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