TennesseeWorks takes employment questions to the public via Community Conversations

Photo of adults talking at Community Conversation

The TennesseeWorks Partnership is dedicated to discovering best practices and promoting gainful employment for individuals with disabilities. They are taking their mission to the streets by way of Community Conversations across Tennessee.

Recently, TennesseeWorks staff members held successful Community Conversations events in Hickman and Dickson Counties on February 24 and in Memphis on March 23. In partnership with the Tennessee Department of Labor, coordinators recruit interested family members, employers, civic leaders, self-advocates, disability service providers, faith community members, and fellow nonprofit organizations in each area to come together and to brainstorm ideas about how to identify and support new employers who can provide job opportunities to individuals with disabilities.

“Community Conversations is a practical and powerful approach for identifying local solutions to the issues that matter most in the lives of community members,” said Erik Carter, Ph.D., VKC investigator and associate professor of Special Education. “Nearly 90 percent of Tennessee families consider work to be an important outcome for their son or daughter with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We have been struck by ways in which local communities can come together in a commitment to expanding real employment opportunities for people with disabilities.”

Each Community Conversation creates a relaxed, informal environment where participants share their ideas with others in a “coffee-house” setting. Over a series of questions, participants move to different tables, discussing each question with a new group of individuals. Groups address questions such as “How can we encourage more employers in our community to hire people with disabilities?” and “How can we work together to support these employers, and their employees, well?”

The ideas generated by each table are recorded by table hosts and are added to a collection shared with the TennesseeWorks Partnership and Community Conversation attendees. Communities are then encouraged to build upon those ideas and put them into practice.

This summer, the TennesseeWorks Partnership will be supporting several communities across the state in hosting their own Community Conversations through an innovative mini-grant. For more information on the TennesseeWorks Community Conversations, contact Jenn Rowan at Jennifer.L.Rowan@vanderbilt.edu.

For more information on TennesseeWorks, visit www.tennesseeworks.org.

Pictured top of page: Participants at the Hickman and Dickson County Community Conversation.

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