By Sevía Gonzales / NM News Port
A local nonprofit was nationally recognized last month for its vocational and job training program.
AmeriCorps bestowed a 2019 Excellence in AmeriCorps Award for Engaging More People with Disabilities on the Mandy’s Farm VAMOS program. The nonprofit, based in Albuquerque’s South Valley provides life-skills training, social development, and mentoring services to developmentally disabled individuals.
Program director Jamie Magnant said the award stemmed from the program’s commitment to recruiting graduates from previous cohorts to return as AmeriCorps members and peer mentors. During the Spring 2019 cohort, 60% of the members facilitating the class were returning VAMOS alumni.
“The outcome for our graduated participants and internal growth that each of them have gone through having the opportunity to be a leader and be a member has been really awesome” Magnant said. “They all have taken ownership of who they are and what they want to do with their lives.”
VAMOS focuses on vocational and employment training and hosts three cohorts every year — one in the spring, fall and summer. This past summer saw the program’s largest class yet, as 32 participants took part in the eight-week intensive job training program.
The VAMOS program launched in June 2018 to provide services and opportunities to individuals not covered by the Medicaid Developmental Disabilities Waiver program.
The DD waiver grants access to various vocational training and mental health services. The stated mission is to shift away from institutional care and create a system of community-based services and in-home care to help foster independence.
Magnant says that some spend up to 15 years on the DD waiver waitlist, leaving many without the care they need. Up to 90% of those on the waitlist are unemployed due to a lack of vocational experience.
“They don’t have access to any support in their home, they cannot access any therapists… They also don’t have any opportunities to access employment training or any kind of community activities that are supported by staff,” VAMOS program director Alex Luce said.
“VAMOS really was kind of a creation after seeing so many of those gaps in services,” Luce said. “We felt really passionate about ensuring that people who are waiting for services can still have access to meaningful programs.”
AmeriCorps provides substantial funding and staffing support for the program, both of which Luce said have been equally vital to the success of the program.
The partnership with AmeriCorps allows Mandy’s Farm to recruit teams of AmeriCorps members to serve as employment specialists who facilitate job training and mentor participants. Luce said AmeriCorps provides about half of the program’s funding. Outside donors include the New Mexico Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Sandia National Labs and the Nusenda Credit Union Charitable Foundation.
Both Magnant and Luce feel that the recognition from AmeriCorps at the national level has increased exposure for both VAMOS and the Mandy’s Farm mission.
“The biggest outcome that we hope to have is that there’s a community ripple effect of positive change in hiring people with disabilities and recognizing them for their strengths and their leadership,” Magnant said.
Sevía Gonzales is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be reached on Twitter @GonzalesSevia or at firstname.lastname@example.org.