Desoto County News

Job Readiness connects disabled with employers

Photo: The Arc Northwest Mississippi Executive Director Rebecca Treadway speaks to the Rotary Club of Olive Branch. (Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

Help Wanted signs are out everywhere as businesses keep trying to fill open positions in the midst of a pandemic. 

When COVID-19 first struck, stores started closing, out of an abundance of fear of catching the virus, and that forced workers to seek other employment. 

When the stores and businesses reopened, those who previously were employed either found a different job or just chose not to work anymore.  

While not a fit for every job, employers are encouraged to look into an opportunity and tap into a pool of workers ready to help out: the intellectually and developmentally disabled. 

The Arc Northwest Mississippi has a program that assists employers find suitable workforce additions. Part of the effort is a Job Readiness Program for those ages 14-21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Executive Director Rebecca Treadway talked about the Job Readiness Program and the other programs offered by the Arc Northwest Mississippi at a recent Rotary Club of Olive Branch meeting at the Olive Branch Country Club.  

The Arc Northwest Mississippi Executive Director Rebecca Treadway
(Bob Bakken/DeSoto County News)

Treadway said the Job Readiness Program supports the employer, the potential employee, and that person’s family to learn that a job-ready skill can be achieved.  

“It helps individuals get in the mindset to work, but we also work to convince the parents that the kids can work,” Treadway said. “Many times the parents don’t really see all that there is out there for them.  We are also trying to help employers see that they can employ people with disabilities and that it’s doable.”

The Arc Northwest Mississippi is looking for more businesses to be a part of the program. It initially involves an individual being allowed to do tasks, such as clerical support, inventory, assembly, and other tasks as identified, and always with an experienced adult assisting them in the tasks, for a 45-60 minute time period.   

Treadway said the response she has received from employers has been positive and she is aware that the task or the individual’s abilities may not always be the right fit. 

“I’ve never had a time with an employer where we were talking that it’s a negative,” Treadway said. “Sometimes our individuals are not right for the employment situation and after they try for a while we realize that, we’ll work to find someplace else. But, I’ve never had someone refuse to talk to me or not be willing to try.”

More companies are looking to add individuals with disabilities to their workforce, however, and Treadway pointed to one local distributor as an example.  

“Sephora Distribution Warehouse in Olive Branch has a program where they are trying to hire 25 percent of their employees as individuals with disabilities,” she said. “We keep pushing to them as fast as we can. It’s an amazing job and a great career.”

Treadway also highlighted the other programs of the Arc, including the summer Camp BOLD program that annually attracts about 180 “campers” to a day camp program. Camp BOLD also involves about 125 volunteers for the four-week program. 

Law enforcement and emergency personnel are being taught how to deal with people who have autism through the Autism and Law Enforcement Coalition training program. That is a First Responder program that equips First Responders with the knowledge and strategies to best serve individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders in a crisis situation.

If a business is interested in taking part in the Job Readiness program, contact Amanda Brown via phone at 662-510-8989 or via email     

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