The pandemic gave Superior Vocations Center’s newest executive director an opportunity to make some changes, including a new name: Embark Supported Employment.

Ashby Rawstern, executive director, said the changes include enhancing employment offerings, expanding vocational rehabilitation services, bringing on a new management team, reassigning board roles, ending a program that allowed sub-minimum wage pay through piece rates and developing new partnerships to enhance service offerings.

The organization, founded in 1966, was created by a group of parents, citizens and professionals to address a need for specialized and intensive training services for people with disabilities.

It got a new start Wednesday, July 21, with a celebration and ribbon cutting at 2320 Hill Ave. in Superior.

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“We offer a three-step approach to provide the needed training and skills to our participants,” Rawstern said.

The first step offers prevocational training for people who need help with soft skills, personal skills and professional skills while they gain exposure to the community through worksites, volunteer opportunities and guest speakers from area businesses.

The second step allows workers to gain work experience by providing the labor for services Embark contracts to provide.

Rawstern said services Embark typically provides includes janitorial, yard clean up, snow removal, retail, production work, assembly or food service in a small group setting at the business.

Norman Saanger of Superior said he got his start providing mowing and cleaning services for the agency at different businesses in the community when he came to the area from Burnett County. Today, he works at Feradyne Outdoors, where he assembles small, colored lights that make it easier to find arrows in the dark.

Saanger credits staff at Embark Supported Employment with helping him apply for and get the job at Feradyne Outdoors.

“It’s a great job,” he said.

Step three is for people who have mastered skills and are ready to get their own job, Rawstern said. The organization can work with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to get participants assistance with applications, resumes and preparation for interviews. Embark can also provide on-the-job support for people with barriers to employment.

“We partner with the actual business,” said Sunja Bennett, rehabilitation services director for Embark. “We train the employer in how to train the individual in their job. So that way they have on-the-job supports with their natural supports.”

Bennett said Embark continues to facilitate any needed support between the employer and the employee, and employers are reimbursed for their time and wages for working with the individual.

“We gradually fade away, so they can be secure and confident in their own skills,” Bennett said.

Among the services available through partnerships are housing counseling with Inclusa to help identify barriers to housing and identify available housing that fits in people’s budgets, Rawstern said. In addition, Embark will be working with Northwest Wisconsin Concentrated Employment Program to provide opportunities for people with barriers to employment.

“We’re actually taking on Project SEARCH this school year, so we’ll be working with 18 and above with DVR services, and we start as young as 16,” Rawstern said.

Project SEARCH was founded on the idea that it might be possible to train people with developmental disabilities to fill high-turnover, entry-level positions. Its primary objective is to secure competitive employment for people with disabilities.

“Our goal is for them to become independent, then we step away,” Rawstern said.