ASPIRO plans to phase out prevocational services by the end of 2020

Published: May. 16, 2019 at 5:03 PM CDT
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ASPIRO announces plans to end prevocational services that employ nearly 250 adults with special needs.

Parents and guardians of those adults first heard about the Board of Directors' decision just days ago. Many of them, including Joel Reetz, gathered at ASPIRO on Thursday afternoon for a meeting about the upcoming changes.

"My daughter, Mandy, will be 32 years old," said Reetz. "She's been attending ASPIRO since she left high school."

For more than a decade, Mandy has worked alongside other adults with cognitive disabilities at ASPIRO to do in-house jobs and earn a paycheck.

"She graduated out to working at Goodwill for two days a week. With all of the experience they do at ASPIRO, I guess it made her opportunity better to get out into the workforce," said Reetz.

Now, that workforce experience is ending at both the Dousman Street and Stiles Road locations.

Reetz received a letter from ASPIRO on Monday outlining the prevocational services phase out. It points to a recent decrease in the workforce from 422 adults five years ago to 245 adults today.

The Board of Directors cites compensation as another reason for ending the program. Proposed federal legislation would force ASPIRO to pay every worker minimum wage. It is a change they estimate would cost the non-profit an extra $520,000 each year.

Reetz and other parents impacted by the loss of services say it is not about the money.

"To get out in the world and work, it gives them an opportunity to feel important and make a little bit of extra money on the side," he said. "Without ASPIRO helping them to achieve all of these goals, they won't be able to get out into the world. They'll be stuck at home not going anywhere."

Reetz plans to reach out to Goodwill, hoping Mandy can pick up more hours. Other parents see recreational day services as their only alternative.

Prevocational services will be phased out by December 31, 2020.

ASPIRO plans to expand the employment services and day services they currently offer. While they say they fought to keep prevocational services running in recent years, the available funding gave them no choice but to end them.

ASPIRO assures the community that its purpose has not changed, and it is committed to helping the affected families transition as smoothly as possible into their next steps either in the workforce or in the day services they provide.

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