Last in a series of articles from the Fall 2018 Inclusion magazine
WATERLOO — Shannon Henson has spent the last several years proving her abilities to engage with her clients at Exceptional Persons Inc., as well as pairing those clients with viable work options in the Cedar Valley.
As a job coach, Henson seeks employment opportunities for her clients, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“It’s amazing. The best part of this whole job is seeing someone do the job to the point they don’t need you anymore. It’s a very rewarding career,” she said.
While working for Waterloo’s EPI program, Henson has matched many individuals with employment opportunities at around 65 area businesses. She stays in contact with those clients and on occasion will check in with them at their job.
“Our ultimate goal is to have individuals not need us as much, to work ourselves out of a job and become fully independent in their employment,” said Bethany Giachino, communications and development specialist at EPI.
Henson was named Iowa’s Direct Support Professional of the Year by the American Network of Community Options and Resources, and was honored at the annual conference in New Orleans in April.
Henson believes everyone has a right to go to work and enjoy their job. Her role as a job coach includes analyzing prior work experience, setting up job shadow experiences and assisting with the interview and employment process.
“It allows them to gain experience with working as well as being a part of society and community as a whole,” Henson said.
Henson has worked at EPI for six years, beginning as an integration specialist helping her clients become integrated into the community, including setting up volunteer opportunities with area businesses. She was promoted to the role of job coach a year ago.
“She has that leadership skill that we look to kind of inspire other co-workers of hers,” Giachino said.
“The most important part is to build relationships with businesses,” Giachino said.
That includes Geater Manufacturing Co., where Henson has assisted Kyle Zieser in successfully gaining employment and performing his duties.
In the beginning, Henson was with him on the job for about 20 hours a week. She would stay with him for the entirety of every shift.
Zieser has since received a raise and is working four days a week independently.
“It’s been a complete turnaround for him,” Henson said.
To learn more about support networks, go to www.wehaveastake.org. EPI was founded in 1957 to provide program planning, service coordination and advocate for people with disabilities.