NOWCAP is Helping People with Disabilities Find Happy, Meaningful Lives in Casper
"If you're not changing and growing, you're just existing, and that's not fun."
K2Radio News sat down with Dawn Lacko, the executive director at NowCap Services, to talk about a program that helps people with disabilities in Casper and Rock Springs to find and keep employment as well as learn valuable skills for living a happy, meaningful life.
NowCap started in 1985 after the Wyoming State training school deinstitutionalized the people with disabilities that lived there, said Lacko.
The program has two main focuses for people with disabilites: providing stable employment opportunities and providing low-income housing.
Lacko said that anyone with a disability, "it doesn't have to be an intellectual disability," might be eligible.
"Honestly, if you can't keep a job because you need something that employers think is too much...contact us."
Lacko argues that more people should consider hiring people with disabilities. She said, "I think employers need to work harder, it's hard to get employees now, and maybe employers need to open their minds a little more to hire people with disbailites, which might mean carving out time, carving out job duties--you know, 'this person only does this piece of that job.'
"If someone wants to work, then everyone's employable or they can volunteer. Everyone should have something meaningful to do with their day, even if they are older and retired. Everyone should have meaningful activity."
Lacko said, "It's hard for people with disabilities to get and keep employment. There are different kinds of accomodations that need to be made, and we're happy to do that."
NowCap obtains employment with federal contracts through Ability One, "and it pays well. The federal minimum wage just went up to $15 an hour," said Lacko.
"They're all happy, and everyone has a bad day, but for the most part they're happy with their employment, their jobs."
Casper participants are currently employed cleaning campgrounds for the BLM and fishing access areas for the Game and Fish.
Some disabilities are more suited to certain jobs depending on personality types and attitudes.
"At one point I worked with a gentleman who had autism, and he was nonverbal, but he could take apart a computer like nobody's business, and he so he worked with e-recycling when that was in town," said Lacko, "You found that skill that he was really good at, which--quite frankly--could drive certain people crazy, like his guardians when he would take things apart, and directing that to a useful skill at work."
Lacko said there are people who make really great greeters because they always have a smile on their face and love talking to the public.
"The people who have the jobs like the jobs, feel safe in the jobs."
Outside of regular employment there are still things people with disabilites can do to help them feel connected to the community, like petting the animals at the humane society, for example.
"People need to feel useful and engaged." That's why it's so important that there are these opportunities. It's a big part of mental health and they do good work, she said.
On the other side of it, NowCap owns an apartment complex to provide affordable housing and provide a safe space to teach people new skills.
Lacko said, "I think that's going to be really important for people aging out of the school district."
Everyone there is receiving services, so it doesn't feel wierd. there's staff their helping them monitor meds, taking them to do fun stuff, and teaching about cooking and cleaning. Participants learn about diet and nutrition, cleaning, chores, social interaction and trying new activities.
"It's a fun place to be" said Lacko.
They do lots of crafts--right now, said Lacko, they're doing Halloween stuff, buying costumes and getting ready for Halloween parties.
Lacko said it's all about building a life around the things they like to do plus taking care of business--sticking to a budget, taking care of their health, doing the laundry, those kinds of things.
You can hear the full interview with Dawn Lack on the Report to Wyoming podcast here.