As parents of an adult daughter with developmental disabilities, we were inspired to launch Boulder Treasures after witnessing first-‐hand the barriers our daughter and her peers experience in securing a job. Employment provides a sense of purpose, value, and full participation in the community for us all. For the hundreds of adults with developmental disabilities in Boulder County, these are aspirations that are far too often inaccessible. Boulder Treasures, Inc. was founded in 2013 as a nonprofit to create pathways to meaningful employment for this population through on-‐the-‐job training, work experience, and job placement services within a retail store established, designed and staffed specifically for that purpose.
Across Colorado, 75% of individuals with developmental disabilities are unemployed. Of those who do have jobs, approximately two-‐thirds earn sub-‐minimum wages in irregular “enclave” employment isolated from the general public.
These statistics are unacceptable. Getting that first job without prior work experience is incredibly difficult. For adults with developmental disabilities their employment potential is often misunderstood and overlooked. As a result, some of these individuals participate in government-‐funded day programs but many just hang out at home. They have given up on their dream of landing that first job. We see this as a terrible waste!
Boulder Treasures is creating professional businesses through which we can train individuals with developmental disabilities. Our first endeavor is a retail clothing store, Ramble On Pearl. In our program, apprentices will learn transferrable job skills while gaining valuable experience working alongside our retail staff. Individuals will work up to 20 hours per week under the supervision of a skilled job coach and alongside our retail staff who have been trained to provide natural supports to ensure their success. After demonstrating independence, our apprentices will continue to gain work experience without a job coach. After approximately 3 months in training, our apprentices will then be provided job placement services to secure independent, competitive, and sustainable employment in the community.
Our businesses will showcase the employability of our apprentices to future employers, while enhancing our customers’ awareness of the many contributions our staff with developmental disabilities have to offer. Our initial goal is to train and successfully place 20 apprentices a year into permanent employment by 2015. Our ultimate goal is to become a trusted source of enthusiastic and reliable employees for the broader employment market in Boulder.
While not yet proven in Colorado, this business model has been proven effective elsewhere. Cornucopia, a pioneering organization in this field located near Cleveland Ohio, has been successfully operating a job training program at its’ Nature’s Bin natural food store since 1975, and has expanded into six other venues in recent years. In their program, which serves approximately 200 people per year, 80% of trainees are hired directly after graduation with a 70% one year retention rate in typically high turnover, entry-‐level, jobs. According to Ronda Van Den Bossche, Director of Vocational Services at Cornucopia, “Our success and longevity can be attributed to a unique framework for working alongside our trainees. It really is all about people, relationships, and a sense of purpose.” Cornucopia has clearly demonstrated that individuals with developmental disabilities can become valuable employees in a variety of business settings. With their guidance, we plan to replicate their success in our community.
Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Boulder Treasures. Visit our Donate Page for more information.