2020 is the most challenging year that many of us have been given to live. We all started it with optimism and many plans on our agenda, both professional and personal, but the Covid-19 pandemic, of a magnitude that no one could anticipate, forced us to reset our goals and aspirations. However, we, the LEAD team, did not give up on our mission.
The restrictions imposed by the Governments of Romania, Lithuania, Portugal and the United Kingdom in order to limit the spread of Sars-Cov-2 have affected our activity, by slowing us down, but have not stoped us. We have continued to work every day with our beneficiaries: young adults with disabilities looking for a job or newly employed, whom the pandemic caught in the process of integrating into new teams; business people interested in employing young adults with disabilities, parents and tutors of youth to whom we strive to give a real chance at an independent life; partners and collaborators.
We are happy because even during the lockdown, we did not stop keeping our promises made two years ago, when we set out on the challenging path of implementing the project “Labour market Employment for young Adults with a Disability – LEAD”, co-funded by the EEA and Norway Grants – Fund for Youth Employment, by us, the team of the Health Action Overseas Romania Foundation (HAO), alongside the teams of the other beneficiary partners VRC – Valakupiai Rehabilitation Center (Lithuania) and Consultis – Consultoria Empresarial, Unipessoal Lda. (Portugal). I am also happy to say that throughout this difficult period we have benefited from the support and experience of the Status Employment team, expert partner in the LEAD project.
During these months we have paid special attention to the development of a strong relationship with each young adult with disabilities enrolled in the LEAD project. Those who were employed at the time of the beginning of pandemic have benefited from the support provided by our colleagues in order to maintain their jobs. In cases when it was necessary to temporarily suspend the company’s activity, due to restrictive measures taken by governments or due to the economic crisis, our colleagues have provided psychological counseling to young adults, including group counseling. Our Supported Employment specialists have also involved young people in various activities, including volunteering, to help them maintain emotional balance and continue their efforts to integrate into the community. In recent months, our specialists have continued to find suitable jobs for young adults with disabilities, even though the unemployment rate had been rising rapidly. This is another victory which we have achieved.
The support provided to parents and family members of young adults with disabilities was another important direction of our activity. Alongside our partners, we developed a training package, which includes: useful information regarding available support services, theoretical and practical elements to motivate young adults to get and maintain a job, as well as specific strategies for individually addressing the needs / desires of young adults with disabilities and developing their teamwork, decision-making and conflict resolution skills. In addition, we have organised individual training sessions with parents and relatives of young adults with disabilities to test our training package and to make the necessary additions and modifications so that it really comes to support the families of young adults with disabilities.
During these difficult months, our Supported Employment specialists have worked hard. Additionally, they have had to adapt the way they communicate with the beneficiaries. In this respect, they have provided support via phone, video calls, and email, which sometimes made their work difficult. In this context, the training and the consultancy received by our colleagues from the Status Employment team was more than welcome.
Moreover, we have continued to pay close attention to the ongoing collaboration with the employers we work with and have made constant efforts to ensure that as many business community representatives as possible understand that a person with disabilities can be a valuable member of their team, but also a valuable member of society if they receive help.
I am pleased to note that, during these six months, National Networks of Supported Employment Services Providers created within the LEAD project in Romania, Lithuania and Portugal, have continued to expand, thus facilitating the implementation of the Supported Employment methodology in as many regions from our countries. Additionally, the exchange of information between professionals in the field has intensified; they sought and found answers to the challenges of the moment and solutions to actual professional problems.
All of us have gone through a very difficult period and we are aware that the troubles are far from over. But we are optimistic! We will continue to work, to enjoy new experiences and the smiles of our beneficiaries with every step they take on the way to an independent life.
The project “Labour market Employment for young Adults with a Disability – LEAD” is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Youth Employment.