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A look back at nonprofit’s past

PETERBOROUGH: Monadnock Worksource changing with the times

In the mid-1970s, Kenneth Forman was one of the first members of Monadnock Worksource, which was founded in 1971 to provide vocational training and remedial education for young people with disabilities. He lived with his mother, Helen Forman, in Antrim and spent his days working at a variety of jobs at the Worksource’s sheltered workshop on Concord Street, where the River Center is now located.

Forman, who died July 22 at the age of 62, left the Monadnock region in 2000, when family members moved away.

“Ken enjoyed working in the shop. He worked there for about 15 years,” said Janis King, the executive director of Monadnock Worksource, who knew and worked with Forman. “He was clever. He had an innate ability to understand human relationships. His mother adored him. She was very loving and loyal to Ken.”

During the nearly 25 years that Forman was connected with Monadnock Worksource, the organization evolved significantly, according to King.

“It was started by members of the local Association for Retarded Children,” King said. “It was really meant as a transition out of high school. At that time, many children would just be given a certificate of attendance at 16. So families got together. They didn’t want students discontinuing any training.”

Worksource started in the old firehouse on Main Street, where members were trained for various types of factory work and even did some detailing work on automobiles. In 1978, Worksource purchased the former Hafeli Fuel and Ice building on Concord Street.

“We started a workshop program,” said King, who has worked for Monadnock Worksource since 1980. “We took in a lot of light manufacturing and packing work. We had contracts with Sand Hill and Brookstone. Eventually, we moved a couple of our people right into the Brookstone building.”

When the sheltered workshop opened, it was for people ages 16 and up. But as special education programs in high school evolved, with laws mandating service through the schools for longer periods of time, the focus shifted to helping people who were over 18 and continuing with them through their adult years.

The effort to integrate Worksource clients into local businesses became a major focus of the organization in the 1980s, and in 1990 the workshop on Concord Street was closed.

“Finding opportunities for our people to work within local businesses was challenging, but very rewarding,” King said. “There’s only so much you can do in a situation that’s not at the actual business.”

King said the new model worked well for a while, but finding work opportunities has become challenging.

“In 1990, employers and businesses were developing. It used to be we’d have opportunities to fill entry-level positions. Eventually, the level of skills required for entry-level became higher. We had to be creative to find what jobs could be done.”

She said local businesses have been very supportive, but the economic recession has presented challenges.

“What concerns me is the lack of employment opportunities,” she said. “We don’t have as much as we had in the past. Many of our people are underemployed. It may be just two hours a day, three days a week.”

As a result, the organization finds itself contributing through volunteer activities, such as having clients work with Meals on Wheels, for example.

“We often value ourselves through our employment,” King said. “We want to provide that for the folks we support.”

King said changes in local demographics in the 1980s also prompted Monadnock Worksource to make another big change, as it started to provide housing options for clients.

“We had the first group home in the state, and in the 1980s we expanded. A lot of young adults who had started with us in vocational education came to live in group homes, as their parents aged. We had an apartment building and three group homes. We were also able to find apartments for some people.”

The gradual closing of the Laconia State School during the 1980s set in motion a new system of funding as well, King said. The state created independent area agencies for each part of the state to provide a degree of local control for social services. Monadnock Developmental Services, based in Keene, was created to serve the region and Monadnock Worksource became a private vendor that subcontracted with MDS.

In the early 1990s, the state moved away from encouraging group homes, King said.

“Many people who would have been served in a group home are now with local families, in an adult foster-care situation,” King said. “We have some extraordinary home-care providers who have been with us for a very long time. They incorporate the person into their lives and their neighborhoods. We’ve been fortunate to find people who are committed to this as a lifestyle.”

Worksource also continues to support some clients who live in their own apartments.

“Some might need assistance with banking or laundry, shopping, dealing with landlords or other tenants,” King said. “Some need more support than others to live independently. It’s a great range.”

Monadnock Worksource currently supports 36 people in residential and day services. The organization employs 19 full-time workers and 5 part-timers, most of them working directly with clients.

King said Monadnock Worksource gets most of its funding through its contracts with Monadnock Developmental Services, which is in turn funded through state Medicaid money. King said there is a statewide move toward a managed-care model for Medicaid, which could mean changes in how the state reimburses providers who care for people with disabilities.

“None of us are quite sure how things will change,” said King. But she said the organization will adjust, as it has done often in the past.

Monadnock Worksource also gets some funding for individual clients from school districts and it’s a United Way agency, with United Way funding accounting for a bit more than 2 percent of its budget. And they’ve run a golf tournament fundraiser for 22 years. “This year’s was in torrential rain,” King said. “It wasn’t pretty, but they played. We have wonderful supporters.”

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