Vail Valley: Vocational rehab office helps people get back to work
In this economy, theres not much scarier than losing your ability to earn a living in the Vail Valley. Jennifer Scillaci, Kathy McCahill and Lilian Myers jobs are to help people learn new ways to work.The three women are state employees working for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Their job is to help people who, for whatever reason, either need to learn job skills or need to learn new skills.We help anybody with a barrier to work, Scillaci said.Those barriers run a gamut from learning disabilities to addiction to injuries that workers-compensation insurance cant completely heal. Working with that range of disabilities takes some help, so the women at the office rely on people including local counselors, community colleges and trade schools.People who have gone through the program are working at local grocery stores and offices. Some have started their own businesses. One former client in Summit County is now building custom bicycle frames. Another man, a former painter, is now a surveyor, thanks to educational grants and loans he got through the office. Others have been able to keep their old jobs.Sometimes, we re-train people so they can keep working, McCahill said. In other cases, people with addiction problems can use the vocational-rehab office as a place to coordinate their outpatient treatment.We can help with (urinalysis) testing whatevers needed to help with their employment goals, she said. The office can also help pay for counseling.All this help can be provided for either no or reduced cost. The office works on a sliding scale based on a persons current income.The only real catch is that the office can only work with people with a documented disability. That documentation can come from a doctor, an employer or another official source. Lately, there have been a lot of requests for mental-health help. People who have been hurt and out of work for a long time can be prone to depression, Myers said.Then there are the construction workers. Beyond the obvious issues of bad backs and joints, a lot of people are experiencing problems with their hearing. That can be dangerous on a job site.While theres a lot of help available out of the small office in Edwards, the women who work there say they could be busier. Since opening in November 2006, the Edwards office has opened case files for about 175 people.We think theres a lot more people we arent seeing, McCahill said. The population tells us we should be seeing more people.Part of that could be a matter of publicity. There isnt much of a marketing budget available.But while there isnt a lot of money for publicity, there are incentives available for employers who hire newly trained or re-trained workers.The federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit provides a $2,400 tax credit for any company that hires one of the offices clients. Other incentives can pay part of a new workers wages or help pay for more training.The office can also find government help for people who want to open their own businesses. But thats gotten harder over the past few months as loans have become tougher to get. A lot of small-business ideas also are based on the idea that people will have some discretionary income to spend, something else thats been harder to find over the past several months.One of the biggest problems, though, is finding work for people that pays as well as their own jobs. Construction, for instance, has long been one of the better-paying jobs locally. Being re-trained for another job sometimes means moving out of the valley to find work, Scillaci said. The bottom line, though, is that the office can help a lot of people find work.I think everybody wants to be a productive member of society, McCahill said. We can help with that.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.