Sep 1, 2023
Joining Carol in the studio today is Sabrina Cunliffe, Disability Innovation Fund (DIF) Grant Manager, with Oregon General. Find out how Oregon General has tackled some challenging cultural issues and is starting to see great results with their strategy for implementing the DIF grant through their Inclusive Career Advancement Program.
Speaker1: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.
Carol: Welcome to the Manager Minute. Joining me in the studio today is Sabrina Cunliffe Disability Innovation Fund, Inclusive Career Advancement Program Manager, or DIF grant manager for short with Oregon General. So Sabrina, how are things going in Oregon?
Sabrina: Oh gosh. Oregon has five seasons, fall, winter, spring, summer and fire season. So it is currently fire season. It looks like a little post-apocalyptic nightmare outside right now, but other than that, we're doing really well.
Carol: I'm sorry to hear that, though. There's been a lot of the wildfires this year that have been so devastating.
Carol: Well, I'm really glad you're here today. And I just want to take a couple of minutes to give our listeners a little bit of background on the Disability Innovation Fund grants. And so in this particular round, grant activities are geared to support innovative activities aimed at improving outcomes of individuals with disabilities and the Career the Advancement Initiative model demonstration. And these were funded in FY 2021 were intended to identify and demonstrate practices that are supported by evidence to assist eligible individuals with disabilities, including previously served VR participants in employment who reenter the program to do kind of four of the following things to advance in high demand, high quality careers like science, technology, engineering and math, or those Stem careers, to enter career pathways in industry driven sectors through pre apprenticeships, registered apprenticeships and industry recognized apprenticeship programs, to improve and maximize their competitive integrated employment outcomes, economic self-sufficiency, independence and inclusion in society, and to reduce the reliance on public benefits like SSI and SSDI and or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Now I remember reading the application and kind of the notice and all of that, and there was really actually some disturbing data that provided the base for RSA and why this particular area was chosen to fund. And they were looking at the program year 2019, RSA 911 data, and it said things like this, like approximately 80% of the participants were earning less than 17 bucks an hour.
And in fact, participants who exited the program in competitive integrated employment reported a median wage of 12 bucks an hour and median hours at 30 hours a week. And the ten most common occupations that were reported by one third of the participants who exited in CIE were stock clerks and order fillers, customer service reps, janitors, laborers, stack material movers, retail salespersons, cashiers, food prep survey, including fast food production workers and dishwashers. It's that whole food, filth, kind of the flowers thing I used to call it. And I know they probably were focusing on career pathways because RSA had also done a competition back in 2015 and they awarded for career pathways for individuals with Disabilities projects under a demonstration training program. And furthermore, Congress made career pathways a necessary, if not foundational, part of WIOAs workforce reform. And so you put all of this together just to put a little under our belt, I just wanted people to have a little bit of a base. Like, what on earth are they picking and why are they doing this? So let's dig in and learn more about you in the project. So can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and what your journey was getting to VR?
Sabrina: Sure, Carol. I started out going to college, majoring in business, working in the corporate world, doing that sort of thing, did that for several years, and then life sort of caught up with me. And I had children and my second child was born with cerebral palsy. And when that happens, it kind of changes your whole view on the world and you start to find out about disability in a way that you never really knew, and you really dig into the systems that exist and see what's available for your people in the world. And what I saw was, you know, the long trajectory of my son's life. And I decided, hey, you know what? I'm going to leave the corporate gig behind. I'm going to go back to graduate school, study disability awareness, study disability services ended up leading to rehab counseling, became a rehab counselor in the state of Oregon in 2009 and then was a branch manager starting in 2013. And then just about a year and a half ago, signed up to take on this innovation grant so that I can maybe change the system from the inside out a little bit was really what happened for me and why VR is so important and critical?
Carol: I love your story because we all come with these different stories and how we got involved in this field and some people fall into it a variety of different ways. But I really like your journey and I think it'll give our listeners a great perspective as they hear you because it's super fun, your passion and and all of that. So can you give us some facts too, about Oregon General? Like how many staff and customers do you have?
Sabrina: Yeah, so we have approximately 275 employees in Oregon that work for Oregon General, and we serve roughly 10,000 customers annually. I would say it used to be a lot more pre-pandemic than it is now or working through that. And we serve customers across 13 individual VR branch offices. So there's 13 branches, 20 offices throughout the state. Oregon has four very distinct economies that are geologically diverse and geographically diverse. We have that Oregon, Portland metro area, and then we have very much rural eastern Oregon and we have the coast and then the southern Willamette Valley and southern Oregon regions. So it's sort of like working in four different states all at the same time in a lot of ways.
Carol: I didn't realize that about Oregon. I was thinking about it. I knew you had some sort of rural nature, but really thinking about those four different distinct areas, that does always pose a big challenge, I'm sure, with both staffing and just as far as getting service provision.
Sabrina: Right, running a statewide program and trying to make it locally based and locally run and locally honored can have its own special challenges for sure.
Carol: Absolutely. So what prompted Oregon General to apply for this grant?
Sabrina: So you may or may not know that Oregon had probably the worst, if not the second worst. We might have been the second worst as far as data in that RSA911 that they based these grants on for measurable skill gains and credential attainment just in the tank, really. And it's something that that we knew that we needed to change for WIOA 2014. And we just never really got with the program in changing the culture of VR to really talk about optimal level of employment and to fully bring post-secondary education into the fold to get those credentials and those Measurable Skill Gains that we needed. And in Oregon, we have this beautiful, robust, existing career pathway system within Oregon's community colleges with hundreds of different career pathways nationally recognized that VR was completely under utilizing. And so what a great opportunity for us to partner with Oregon community colleges and change the culture of Oregon VR, really to see post-secondary education as a gateway to optimal level of employment that we needed to be focusing on.
Carol: Well, the only place to go is up then, from where you were. No. You know, when
you start kind of in the basement, you're like, all right... Well, we're climbing out of it.
Good on you. So can you give us a big overview of the project? I know you have these different arms of things you wanted to do.
Sabrina: So ICAP - Inclusive Career Advancement Program is what we named our grant, and it supports a minimum of 500 people with disabilities, including those from marginalized communities. So 45% from black, indigenous, people of color communities in Oregon to help them choose a career pathway of interest, access post-secondary education, participate in that training or the internships in those high demand career fields. Obtain the credentials in their career field that's chosen, and then to also help them gain the employment upon completion of their program and we're doing that through installing a career coach in 16 of the community colleges across Oregon. So in one FTE position at the college, that's the boots on the ground person to be that conduit between the counselor and the community college. And the difference between this mean you might see navigators with Department of Labor or with all sorts of other different programs. But what's different about ICAP is that that career coach is specifically trained around people with disabilities, the specific needs of people with disabilities, really looking at the intersectionality of race and disability, of poverty and disability and all of those things that often people with disabilities don't have success or as much success with those other navigators because very specific disability barriers are lost on them. And so huge emphasis on that. We have four core partners. It's Oregon VR, it's the main grantee, and then we have Portland Community College, which is a Subawardee that manages all of the individual sub grants with each individual community college. And then we have Oregon Commission for the Blind because we wanted the Oregon Commission for the Blind to have their participants be able to participate in our program as well. We have two of them already, which is fantastic. And then Cornell University or the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, there are evaluation partner and also our training and provider for this grant.
Carol: I'm so glad that you partnered too, with your blind agency. Sometimes we've got states where you know you're both there, but it's not always good communication between you, so that is great.
Sabrina: And then we just have the GEPRAs. I just wanted to touch on those real quick so people know what we're measuring. We're 500 people is the target of those 45% need to be from black, indigenous and people of color communities. So that'd be 225. We need to have 375 of those that start finish and of those 375 that get a credential, we need another 75% of those to actually get competitive, integrated employment within the span of the grants timeframe. And then 75 Percent of those people to get hourly wage gains, 50% of those to get employer provided medical benefits. 65% of those also need to increase the hours that they worked from whenever they came in to whenever they left. And then we need to also track if anybody got a promotion or any additional responsibilities or anything like that between when they get the job and when the grant ends. And then also reporting about whether or not they are receiving less or no public benefits with 35% hopefully having their competitive integrated employment be their primary source of support.
Carol: So you're going big or going...
Sabrina: Big or go home. Exactly.
Carol: That's right. So what are you seeing as the biggest challenges?
Sabrina: Oh, gosh. When we decided to do this innovation grant, we could have gone two ways. We could have had ICAP be separate and apart and ran it completely independently of the larger program. And we decided not to do that. We decided to fully integrate it into the existing program. All ICAP participants must be VR participants. All VR counselors can work with ICAP participants, no specialization of any kind. So we needed to completely train the entire staff about this cultural shift, about what it means to have optimal level of employment, to teach them how to write post-secondary ed plans that work, how to do the comprehensive assessment in a way that we're really, truly looking at interest, ability, skills, resources, priorities, concerns all through an informed choice lens and making optimal level of employment happen. And not just for lack of a better term, McJobbing people left and right and hiring job developers and punting and seeing how it goes for folks. And so that is our innovation for our grant. It doesn't sound like much, but it's huge for us to be able to do that work. And so, of course, the first challenge we have is the amount of time it takes for someone to become a participant. It's not like we could just sign them up for ICAP. They had to go get in line at VR, and in Oregon, Sometimes that can take up to three months.
By the time they get asked, call the office, ask for an intake, meet with the counselor, found eligible for our services. And when you're working with particularly youth and students that are going from high school and potentially entering a career pathway, they might decide that they want to start a career pathway two weeks beforehand. And so our system and the career pathway system had to really say, we need to look at this, right? We're starting to really pay attention as an agency to figure out what several other states are doing. Some states are finding people eligible within three days or 17 days. And we're looking at all of those different ways in which we can change that. That's a larger process that's going to have to happen. But what the ICAP Grant did was really shine a light on it and gave us some really cool data of something that everybody knew but that nobody had really codified in writing and reported to the RSA. And so here we are. That challenge has been identified and it's definitely something that we're going to have to address. We've, of course made lots of little shortcut solutions in there to address the ICAP grant. But as far as the larger program, it's kind of front and center. Now that particular issue. The second biggest challenge that we have is that while we thought we had a great post-secondary ed policy, what we found out that it was really how to rule people out, not how to rule people in policy, and it created an exorbitant amount of red tape for counselors.
No counselor wanted to do it because it was an extra three hours worth of work with a participant. Right. Who would want to go through all these checklists and make sure all of these things are in place and fight these fights with the financial aid offices and do all of this stuff that was required in our policy that just seemed like we're going to figure out every way to not support post-secondary ed. So one of the first things that we did was identify that and we completely rewrote our post-secondary ed policy, took out all of the language that you shall and you must and made it seem very inclusive. And you know what? Tell us what you want to do. Let's figure out what supports you need so that you can be successful. We're going to do that and we're going to remove all that paperwork piece for the VRC to be able to feel confident in doing that. And we also had these things with every branch manager, had to approve every plan that a counselor wrote for any post-secondary ed that was removed completely. And it's given autonomy and trust to the counselor to make these judgments that they need to make in their jobs.
And so that just came out a week and a half ago, though. So we haven't seen the impact of it yet completely. But one of the most exciting challenges and solutions that we've had to date, what's great, we have Cornell University on doing our and training. We've probably done over 50 trainings in the last year and a half, really looking at the discernment for appropriate use of training through an what does that mean for someone and how do we write those plans? Just creating fake plans, really. I have plans, samples that are like for IB CAPPY so counselors know how to reflect the services and the plan. They know how to write them effectively. They know how to really understand. And their decision making and how to have those critical thinking moments and how to have the conversations with the client that are more appropriate when you have a lot of counselors that have been discouraged for years from doing this work. It can be kind of scary as they learn these new steps and when people kind of make decisions out of fear, they do it either with, Oh, you can do whatever you want and there's no accountability. That's probably half the VRCs, and the other half is, No, you can't do this because I need to have control over this and make sure that I can control the outcome, right? So finding that middle ground, empowering clients, empowering VRCs to do the work has been absolutely huge. We'll be ongoing for the duration of the program and then lack of equitable workflow for coaches. So we were silly kind of when we designed this in the beginning and we didn't realize that there are 17 community colleges in Oregon, but they are vastly different in their capacity. And so we started out with everybody is going to serve, you know, the same amount of participants in the grant and what we found out, that's not going to work because Portland Community College, you know, has seven campuses within the Portland metro area and has 30 different VRCs that are referring to the program. We're out in eastern Oregon. There's two VRCs and one community college with only 14 career pathways, right? So we couldn't expect the same result from rural schools as we have from metro schools. And so really not looking at it through an equality lens, but an equitable lens for our performance measures through each of the individual community colleges is something that we're doing when we start serving students at the beginning of this year. And hopefully that will give our numbers more meaning and have people feel more respected in where they're at and what they can actually do.
Carol: Well, I love that you're digging into these very tough challenges, and I know things like our policies and procedures, words do matter. I mean, it sets a tone for your counselors. And we've seen this with lots of states. When we do TA work, you know, people will be like, thou shalt not, you know, and everything that the customer has to do and we will not pay for this or do this. And you have to prove yourself and all of that. When you flip all those words around, it does send a message, even if it's subliminally to those people that are reading it can just see that in other states you see this cultural shift happening because you're looking at this more positively. You're focusing more on like a person's strengths instead of all the reasons they can't do something. I think digging in and all your kind of warts, so to speak.
Sabrina: Yeah. And to watch someone go from having a process driven agency to a people driven agency just warms my heart. It just feels really good.
Carol: See, that's all you West Coast folks, because Joe Xavier started the charge with that because he's like, We're not going to let the paperwork get in the way of the people. Like we got to remember the people are here first. And so you're picking up on that, too. And you also have created new acronyms with the IBCAPPY or whatever. That is very cool. So obviously you've got all these things, you're digging in and you're doing this stuff, but how like I know you said you wanted everybody in the organization to be able to do this, so you didn't keep this all separate. But structurally, organizationally, I'm sure people are sitting out there thinking, okay, Sabrina, there’s you, do you have a team of people? Like, how are you structurally carrying this off?
Sabrina: When you look at our key personnel for the grant, I left my cushy branch manager job and took a limited duration job to do this. Not much of a pay raise at all, but I believed in it so much. That's how I got here. And then I have a communication specialist. That's Jen Munson. She sort of runs all of the communication and all of the outreach activities. Really in lots of communications we have organizationally is a community of practices, so local community of practices and statewide community of practices. And so she makes sure that those are happening. And then I have a data analyst and their job is to extract all of that 911 data for ICAP participants to work really well with Cornell and their evaluation team, making sure that they get the data that they need. And then just giving us kind of a daily update on all of the data that's happening and where we need to be focusing so that we can stay really data informed as we move forward and continue to innovate the grant. So there's three FTEs with the grant and then there's a project manager for 0.2 or 0.3 FTE. I have a project manager that is worth their weight in gold.
They write our huge project plan, develop all of our buckets, tell us all of the different work that needs to be happening in those buckets. By when mean don't wake up a single day without knowing exactly what I need to do that day and why and how it needs to happen and when it needs to be done by. So it creates a very proactive approach to managing the grant through this project management lens that we have. And then of course, we have our deputy director who's overseeing the entire grant at 0.2 FTE of her salary is dedicated to this grant for the duration of the grant. So that is how we're structured internally. And then of course, we meet with branch managers, get an ICAP FaceTime with me for an hour once a month, and there are multiple opportunities to our communication system on the side that we're able to distribute information and keep people up to date on what's happening.
Carol: So you do not have an army, I mean like you're really literally talking about 3.5 FTEs?
Carol: And you're making miracles happen, like you're changing the world with three and a half people. You know, I know sometimes states think like, oh, we don't have enough people, We can't do the thing, We need this and that. But like, you are making it happen with a really minimal staff investment. But it is shifting all this thinking and shifting the ways that the agency is operating. That is very interesting.
Sabrina: Yeah, it has the love, though, of the entire exec team of Oregon VR. We couldn't do it, just the three of us. If Keith and Heather and all of the other people that do all of the instrumental things that are happening in VR, if there was infighting about the direction that we needed to go culturally, it'd be a much different situation. But we are united in our thinking and our belief system about where our agency needs to go. And so I think we get a lot of free labor actually from whether it's our youth manager or policy manager, our business and operations manager, probably not a single person in VR that hasn't helped us in some level or another. Also, so don't want to make it sound like just the three of us pulled this off.
Carol: Yeah, you do have a really good exec team because Keith is great, like Keith and Heather. I know those guys and they're very invested. And especially as you talk about like wanting to change the culture and making significant impact, like go big or go home. I love that. I love that. So I know you said some of the activities, you know, you were out you did like 50 trainings and all of that. What are some of those other activities like specifically you're carrying out? Because I'm sure people are thinking like, oh, my gosh, you have this huge project. And when you were listing like all of the kind of the metrics that you want to accomplish, it sounded like this massive word problem. So if we were in Chicago leaving on the train and then we hit New York, you know, like how many people are on the train now, all of that. But gosh, like, how do you start this?
Sabrina: So the interesting thing about a DIF grant is that you find out you're getting the grant and then two days later you get this money, right? And don't know about you. But in state government around here, it takes about six months to write a position description, get it approved, post the position, get the positions, go through the hiring process, and then start dates and then onboarding. And so while the grant started in October of what, 21 is that it? 22?
Sabrina: Yeah. I wasn't hired until the next end of April. And so there was a large chunk of time where there was a whole bunch of work happening on the background when people could, when they weren't trying to run Oregon General at the same time, but also trying to get the people hired to do the work. And then we also needed to hire all of the career coaches at all of the community colleges and the infrastructure within Portland Community College to manage those career coaches. And so all of that took the first 9 to 10 months of the grant where we weren't really drawing down hardly any funds, and it made the people who monitored the drawdowns very nervous. And so that clock starting immediately, just be aware of that, right? It might be a five year innovation fund grant, but you're really not going to start to serve the participants. And we were lucky we were able to start serving them at the end of year one probably had about 19 or 20 participants then, but lots of DIF grants even struggled even more than we did with getting those people hired and into those positions. And then we created a framework, is really was the first thing that I did whenever I came was say, okay, this is the framework document, this is what we're doing, this is how we're going to structure our community of practices. This is how we're going to communicate with each other. This is how we're going to get everyone on the same page. This is how we're going to delineate workflow between what's a VRCs responsibility, what's a career coach's responsibility, what's everyone else's responsibility? And really talk about that. Educate all of the VRCs on what career pathways are, how to access them, how to contact them, develop the referral processes that needed to be developed for those, we needed to update some policies we're doing that. We'll continue to do that and then develop statewide community of practices in addition to the local community of practices and calendaring. All of those sorts of things is really how you get started is just map it out, sit down and go, okay, this is where we want to be. Work backwards from there. Get your project manager in, create your work buckets and get to work.
Carol: You made such a good point. I think people don't realize that. So for our listeners, you know, as you're thinking about the DIF and people that have been part of one, they'll realize we've heard it over and over, man, that first year. It does not go like you think because it takes forever for every state government, you know, to get rolling with getting those positions hired and all of that. So you've got that pile of money sitting there and then you're going, Oh my gosh. I mean, we're just trying to get the people on board and get rolling. So that is good advice. Just to remind people, it takes, takes a bit to get going. So I know you are starting to already see some initial results. What are you seeing?
Sabrina: Let's see. We have about 140 students enrolled now. Ten folks have already received their career pathway certificate, which is fantastic, which means they're in the looking for a job stage. We're about two months behind on the reports that we get from the community college. So actually, there might be people out there that have a job. I just can't tell you that for sure because I don't have it in writing yet. About 58% of our ICAP students are youth, which is fantastic, and 37% of those youth population are from the BIPOC community. And so what we're noticing is that we have a lot more success if we focus on youth and career pathways than if we are looking to people who are needing to change careers for whatever reason. We need to find out more about that. But as far as our referral process is concerned, really working with our youth partners to pull this off I think is going to be instrumental that we didn't realize we needed such an emphasis on when we started. We have ICAP students are enrolled in 75 different unique educational pathways. Right now, 75 we have 58% of the VRCs in the state have at least one ICAP participant. We have that much penetration with VR staff, which warms my heart because we were worried about that. But we'd love it to be 70 by the end of this. So if you were to combine all the college credits that our ICAP students are currently taking, they're currently taking over 4000 college credits, according to my little data analyst told me this morning. So they're doing it.
Carol: Good stuff. That's good stuff that's happening. I love to hear it. So now that's the happy news. What are some of these speed bumps that you've hit along the way?
Sabrina: The biggest one is that in our $18 million grant, 2.3 million of that is supposed to be spent on client service dollars, right? Tuition fees, books and supplies. And what we're finding is there are so many comparable benefits out there. And how we're structured with comparable benefits in VR doesn't do anybody any favors. And so when we're getting their Pell Grants or their Oregon Opportunity grants or their SNAP grants, there's so many. When Oregon is the last payer that US spending that $2.3 million and doing it within regional and policy has been really, really challenging. And so that'll be interesting to see how it is that we can maybe change that or shift that or find ways to braid services more effectively with all of these other different grant opportunities because they're the last pair to they're just less cumbersome than VR is in order to do that. And just some more of that ancient thinking on the part of VR as we only pay after we've made sure everybody else is paid right, What might that look like if we were a little less stringent? And then of course, our big, big giant speed bumps were around Measurable Skill Gain Credential Attainment. The nuts and bolts of that we found out, is really how we were capturing that data in our aware program. And the translation is, is we weren't. And so hence the...
Carol: Reason you were in the basement.
Sabrina: Right? So we had to completely look at how we had those screens developed on our educational goal screen in Orca. And like so many late nights of Heather and I watching videos from Missouri General on how they did it right and looking at that and then rebuilding that entire part of our Orca system, Orca meaning AWARE system so that we could capture that data and have it be accurate because it's not that Oregon wasn't doing MSGs and credential attainment. We just never wrote it down. And so we had to train staff about what those are. We had to create procedures and have those in place for how to do the data entry. And we actually had to build the infrastructure back so that it would actually report correctly on our 911 reports. So that was a huge undertaking of I'll sleep when I'm dead kind of activities that needed to happen to pull this off.
Carol: Holy cow. I like it when you get you did your voice as your stringent voice. Oh my gosh. So I know you also have had you are not shy for all our listeners. I mean, Sabrina and I had chatted a little bit ago and super cracked up because you are definitely one to say what's on your mind. And so I know you made some interesting observations since you started leading this project. What are some of your ideas you thought should change?
Sabrina: Oh, that's the if you could change the world, Sabrina, what would it be question? Oh, this is just Sabrina talking, not saying anything. But if I could, we all know how poverty and disability go hand in hand. Same outcome results since the 80s. What's going on? Where's the juggernaut? Guys, we have the ability to fix this and it all comes down to post-secondary ed and our unmet need problem that we have, how we take their Pell grants and we skim right off the top and we do tuition fees, books and supplies off of their Pell grant. If nationally, we could find a way to take that Pell grant and let them use that for poverty based stuff housing, food, all their disability related stuff that we can't pay for or that they don't know how to report. Just let them have their Pell grants to live on and. We covered tuition fees, books and supplies. In addition to that, it would be life altering and life changing to the poverty cycle. We continue to find people with disabilities in in America, but that can only change with big time people that have, you know, some sort of sway in how it is that Pell Grants are administered and approved.
And think under the Department of Ed, they could really work together in a great way to recognize participants in a different way. With Pell Grants, let us do the tuition fees, books and supplies, allow those Pell Grants to serve the people from their poverty lens. Huge opportunity there. That I think would really take a lot of fear. And the struggle I mean, you know, it a person with a disability doesn't have the option of working three hours in the evening while going to school full time. It takes them 2.5 hours to get dressed in the morning. It takes them another three hours to work with their adaptive equipment to write that paper. It's not apples to apples. It doesn't need to be apples to apples. And we have an opportunity to recognize that. And change the unmet need calculations for VR or change how Pell Grants are interpreted by VR. That's my biggest dream. It would change so many lives.
Carol: That is excellent. I know one of my colleagues, DJ Ralston, does a lot of training around disability and poverty and how it goes hand in hand, and I think we don't talk about it enough in VR. It's like we somehow think all of that's superfluous, like it's out to the side and but it's so intricately intertwined with the person because if you don't have food and you don't have a house, how are you...
Sabrina: You're not going to go to school.
Carol: How are you going to school and where are you plugging in your laptop? You know, you can only be at Starbucks so long in a day.
Sabrina: Or if you're housing is tied to those benefits that are tied to a poverty cycle.
Sabrina: Yeah. No , can't do it. Yeah, So much fear around that.
Carol: Do you have any other thoughts on changing the world?
Sabrina: I have so many thoughts on changing the world, but that's the one that. That's the one that I probably have the okay to talk about.
Carol: Yeah. We don't want to get you off the grant now. So one of the other things that's interesting is that the DIF grants are a discretionary grant. So when we get our VR or 110 dollars, it's a VR formula grant. What kind of challenges have you faced in managing this discretionary grant versus, you know, the typical VR funding?
Sabrina: I would say it's constantly managing and balancing the funds and the report writing requirements of the grant. I don't think anybody knew what that was all about. Whenever we signed up to do this, it's pretty heavy. We have, you know, monthly reports that we need to write, monthly calls with that we need to attend quarterly, meetings with other DIF people that we need to attend. And then twice a year we had an end of year report, annual performance report, that are giant documents. We are held accountable for every penny. Don't lose a penny, Pull down the money, spend the money, Why aren't you spending it fast enough? But make sure it's applicable, make sure it's reasonable. Make sure it's necessary. Make sure you prove it to us. Then all of those things are. But are you serving the people? How many people are you serving? It's this dichotomy of crazyville that kind of gets me going around pulling down the funds, spending the money, managing the budget, re managing the budget because you're just guessing when you say how much this is going to cost, you have no idea that the entire workforce is going to receive a 6.5% wage increase next year and another 6.5% wage increase after that. And you didn't write that into your grant and you don't know that travel is going to be exorbitant with inflation, all sorts of things that you have to constantly rebalance the funds and you have to write down absolutely everything you do with a DIF grant. So you have to say what you're going to do and then go do it and say what you're doing while you're doing it, and then say how you could have done it better and then say what you might do better in the future in this continuous cycle across 15 to 20 different work buckets and work plans that you have in place? Yeah. For every minute that you spend doing something, you spend another minute and a half writing about it, it feels like.
Carol: So yeah, I'm glad we brought this up because I know it's just the stark reality of it. And so I think folks sometimes get into the DIF grant and they don't understand this about, you know, you have line items in a budget and now we're going to go outside of this and we want to move money, but we got to get okay, you know, and all of these things because it's very different than the VR grant. So I think it's better for people to at least understand that going in that there is going to be this component. So if you're able to build in, you know, someone that can help assist with some of this stuff as you're doing the project, which is the really cool stuff, you know, that you're trying to get done. But you have to remember there is this sort of a little bit of an administrative burden. And it's not just even a little bit, you know, it's kind of a, a lot bit, but it is sort of the price we pay to have these funds to do these cool different things.
Sabrina: Totally worth it. But yeah, go in with your eyes wide open. And if you don't have somebody that's done grant management or you have somebody that's strong in project management, think about the person that you need in that role to be able to pull that off for sure.
Carol: Yeah, good advice. Good advice. So of course we talk about the bummer things, but let's talk about something like what is like one of the coolest things that has happened to date. Do you have a fun story or something really cool? We want to leave people with like a happy thing.
Sabrina: Want to share two things because two things came to mind. The first thing that comes to mind is part of our initiative is to either develop or enhance existing career pathways in Oregon for people with disabilities. So make them more accessible, make them more anything that they could be to be working for the people that we serve. And so one of the things that they've done out in eastern Oregon is create this drone program. You know, those drones that go up in the air and fly over stuff. And so what that's done is it's allowed for people that want to work in agricultural fields and want to work with cattle, want to watch crops, want to work for an elk hunting operation, those sorts of things. They can now, without a lot of physical mobility, be able to run a drone, go check on their crops, go check on their cattle and their herds, run hunting programs and all sorts of things through this program that teaches people how to run these drones and how to work for companies that have these drones all over eastern Oregon, which I think is really cool. And we're having several people that have disabilities sign up for those programs in a way that because of this program, we're able to develop that and make that possible for them. So that feels really good.
Carol: That is very cool.
Sabrina: Yeah. But one of the cooler things that sort of hits me in the feels is just when an ICAP participant walks up to you and says, Before I had my career coach, I didn't have anyone. But with career coaches that understand my disability, I have gone from a 1.6 GPA to a 4.0 GPA, and I'm the first person in my family to ever go to college. Right? Those just, yup. that's why we all get up every day and we do this work and we keep plugging away at it and we try and make the world a little bit better for people. And so that's really what excites me. And it happens not just once, not just twice, but all the time.
Carol: That makes my heart happy. Yeah. Oh, my gosh. Because we've thought about those navigators, other places we've had, but not here. Like what your spin on this has been super interesting. I love it.
Sabrina: What happens if that career coach understands disability, understands that unique lens? Gives grace. Just somebody that goes in and talks to the Accommodations office at the local community college on behalf of a student that can even troubleshoot it with a professor if it's not working out right, somebody that's physically there that they can just walk into their office and sit down and go, Hey, this is really hard. It's great. Those coaches, they're amazing.
Carol: That's great. So what are your next steps?
Sabrina: Next steps, Right. We're going to continue with our messaging. We really need to target in to get up to that 45% BIPOC number. With our recruiting strategies, there's not a lot of black indigenous people of color in Oregon. It's pretty low, 14.4% of the overall population. So that 45% is a big ask for us and they don't have a lot of warm, happy feelings about accessing VR in general or our larger human services offices that we're all located in. So that's a big deal. We are going to be onboarding three additional community colleges to start serving students this fall. We started out with the core ten. Now we're adding three more. So that's a big deal. We're going to continue to draw down those funds as quickly as we can, find new and inventive ways to braid funding more effectively so that we can use those client service dollars. And then really, the big thing on my mind that I worry about is figuring out a way for this to be sustainable. How do we get to retain those coaches long term in Oregon? We're going to prove that they matter and that they make a difference. How do we keep them? So that's on my to dos.
Carol: Well, I'm fully confident you're going to do it. All of it, because you are a get up and go kind of gal. So I so appreciate the work you're doing in Oregon. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us and share so our listeners can get a little glimpse into what's going on in Oregon. I think it's fun and that you guys have been willing to like you expose all your dirty laundry like where we were. You know, we're in the basement, we're going up. It's going to be so good for the people in your state. And I'm really excited. I hope you'll come back towards that last year when you have really fun results to share.
Sabrina: I hope so. I do hope so. That'd be great. I'd love to come back. Thank you, Carol, so much for inviting me. It's been fun. Thanks.
Carol: Have a great day.
Sabrina: Hey, you, too.
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