Work provides individuals with a sense of purpose, self-worth and connection to the community. It’s an opportunity and ability many of us take for granted. According to The Arc, “the vast majority of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are either unemployed or underemployed, despite their ability, desire and willingness to work in the community.” However, an Olathe, Ks foundation is working to improve that impression. Heartstrings is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is expanding inclusion in the workplace by offering employment opportunities to adults with I/DD. Currently, the organization employs 47 individuals with plans to expand employment opportunities throughout 2019.
Upon walking through the doors at Heartstrings, you immediately feel the unifying passion of staff members to enrich the lives of others. Working alongside case managers, the state and county, the Heartstrings team carefully matches an employees’ unique skills and interests with job availability. The main objective is to find a career path that is fulfilling and enables the individual to grow. Prior to finalizing placement, potential hires can shadow a specific role to gain on-the-job insight that’s crucial to deciding if the job is a good fit. By structuring the program around personalized placement, Heartstrings has secured an impressive employee retention rate with the average employee having been there for approximately seven years. In fact, their longest standing employee recently celebrated 12 years of service!
“Our employees have been given so many different labels throughout their lives. For us, they only have one label — employee,” said Anne Hull, Director of Development.
Each morning, employees assemble at Heartstrings’ new Olathe, Ks headquarters for announcements prior to venturing out on assigned shifts. Announcements encompass everything from reviewing the group’s overall progress toward a sales goal to celebrating birthdays and career milestones. It’s a time for the group to rally morale and start the day off on an exciting note. In addition to Goody Delivery®, Heartstrings owns and operates Sacks on Santa Fe in downtown Overland Park and bakes and packages homemade dog treats. Each job hones unique skills while providing an opportunity for individuals to connect with the community.
On Wednesday afternoons, Heartstrings’ Goody Delivery service visits four of the Netsmart offices in Overland Park. With a multi-tiered cart carrying a variety of carefully packaged treats, Netsmart associates are sure to find a snack to meet an afternoon hankering! Each Heartstrings employee is granted the opportunity to practice money handling, communication and customer service skills with each transaction. Whether someone chooses to indulge in a snack or not, the willingness to engage in friendly conversations with Heartstrings employees is crucial to their experience.
For individuals with less experience conversing with individuals with I/DD, Goody Delivery offers a phenomenal platform to practice acceptance, inclusion and connection. “Part of the great thing about the Goody Delivery program is getting the opportunity to interact with people who are developmentally disabled,” said Netsmart associates Chris Newman. “A lot of people are nervous, and they don’t know how to act. I think just seeing it as a normal interaction in your day is a great and powerful way to help educate not only yourself, but people who are secondarily involved in those conversations.”
Newman currently serves as Treasurer for the Heartstrings Board of Directors. “I have two family members who were born developmentally disabled. To be able to see a path for adults beyond the school system — for them to not only have something to do, but something that’s truly a career is great to see. It’s something I not only want to invest money in but also my time.” After coming to Netsmart and learning of our community involvement and cause connected vision, Newman personally reached out to Heartstrings to see if they’d be interested in coming to our office. Soon, a wonderful partnership was established, and Heartstrings’ service has expanded alongside Netsmart. Today Heartstrings serve approximately 120 Kansas City metro organizations, with Netsmart as their largest Goody Delivery customer!
Nicki Grose is another Netsmart associate actively involved with Heartstrings. Serving on their fundraising committee, Grose attends weekly meetings to strategically plan annual events. By becoming actively involved in Heartstrings, she hopes to pave a brighter future for not only her niece with Down syndrome, but all I/DD community members. Grose is proud to help further Heartstrings’ outreach and impact by supporting the fundraising efforts.
Like many organizations, Heartstrings employees are given sales goals, participate in ongoing training and carry personalized business cards. The program’s structure centers around equipping an individual with the tools they need to continually learn, engage with the community and experience independence.
“We believe in people first. Everyone has disabilities and abilities. We focus on abilities,” said Bunny Higgins, Heartstrings executive director.
It’s truly a privilege for Netsmart to collaborate with Heartstrings and engage with their incredible team members on a weekly basis.
Continue reading to learn how to get more involved with the organization:
Heartstrings has multiple events throughout the year that community members can participate or volunteer in. Heartstrings in Bloom is the organization’s annual gala held on the evening of April 27. The event includes dinner, dancing and a silent auction. Volunteers are currently needed to assist with the Hospital Hill Run on the morning of June 1. For runners, consider participating in one of the three races offered! Finally, Heartstrings will host a fundraiser at Topgolf on October 3. Consider gathering six of your friends or fellow coworkers to enjoy some friendly competition in support of a worthy cause.
Additionally, if you have clothes, accessories, shoes or home furnishings you’re ready to part with, consider donating them to Sacks on Santa Fe. As the weather continues to warm up, visit their storefront after perusing the Overland Park Farmers’ Market, or partaking in a Third Friday celebration. Finally, Heartstrings is always looking for new members to join the board and serve as communications and corporate liaisons. As the organization fulfills its aspirations to expand and welcome new employees, they’re eager to secure more organizations interested in Goody Delivery.