By Erik Furlan
(July 18, 2017 – FORESTVILLE, Md.) — Imagine it’s 1985, and your child has been diagnosed with an intellectual or developmental disability. Imagine the advice is to either institutionalize your child or simply leave him or her at home.
That wasn’t good enough for a group of Prince George’s County parents who wanted their children to have options as adults. They formed what was then called SMVI – Southern Maryland Vocational Industries, Inc.
“What they were hoping to do was to help their children transition into adulthood by finding them jobs and helping them to live as independently as possible,” said Nadine Bartholomew, marketing director for the organization now known as EPIC, which stands for Empowering People with Intellectual Challenges. “It’s grown over the 30-plus years, although our mission still remains very much the same: maximizing independence.”
One of the ways EPIC does that is by encouraging its clients to find jobs. EPIC’s programs include the Day Vocational or Day Supports Program and the Residential Program.
The residential program includes 16 group homes, staffed by EPIC’s direct support professionals, where residents learn skills like cooking and cleaning.
The day vocational/supports program consists of two key components – the supportive employment component and the community based component. In the supportive employment component, staff help residents with job hunting, resume writing, practice interviews and job training.
“When the individual gets a job, it switches from the job training to the job coaching aspect more fully where the job coach helps the individual stay employed and keep the right head space,” Bartholomew said. “It’s looking for work, finding work and keeping work.
“So many of our individuals want to be employed but aren’t employed,” she said. “There are organizations in Maryland that do a great job of hiring people with disabilities. What EPIC would like is for more companies to take that chance, [for] more Maryland organizations [to] hire people with disabilities for jobs they are qualified to do.”
Those residents for whom work may not be possible benefit from the community based component at EPIC.
“They may spend the day volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter, spend the day at a museum, spend the day at a theme park or spend the day in a library… doing things that help them lead as full a life as possible,” Bartholomew explained.
The spirit of EPIC, what exemplifies what EPIC is about, is in the day-to-day of what EPIC does in empowering people with intellectual challenges.
“We are giving people opportunities to wow us, to surprise themselves, to challenge themselves and more often than not, they rise to that challenge and surpass our expectations,” Bartholomew said.