Delaware program faces challenges in employing, placing disabled workers

On a daily basis, dozens of people with disabilities visit the Delaware Elwyn facility on 11th Street, to go to work. They have varying types of developmental disabilities, and a variety of different skill levels.

However, they seem to have several things in common:  they enjoy coming to work, they are dependable, and they enjoy making a contribution.  Some are skilled enough to be placed with area businesses, restaurants and other places of employment.

The organization’s contracts are with local businesses in need of services such as packaging, collating or assembling.  During an economic slowdown, they may have less work to offer.  Also, Delaware Elwyn is heavily affected by budget difficulties on the state level.  Substantial cuts are being proposed in fiscal year ’11 for Delaware programs serving the developmentally disabled.

“The unemployment rate is astronomical for folks without disabilities.  It’s at least double that for folks with disabilities,” says Work Services Programming Director Ellen Thomas. 

Mary Steppie, who chairs the Delaware Elwyn board, also has a sister who has taken part in its programs for about 30 years. She says her sister loves it, and looks forward to going to work every day.

“What sets Elwyn apart,” Steppie says, is that they “don’t look at the disability first, but look at the individual.”

She says, however, “we cannot continue to do more with less.”

So far, Elwyn is rolling with the ups-and-downs of the economy, according to Wilmington center Director Kendra Johnson.

“Luckily, because Elwyn has been around for a very long time, often times some of our business contacts may have been through word-of-mouth, from other contractors we”ve had relationships with” Johnson says.

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