East Bay Innovations Helps People with Disabilities Gain Independence

East Bay Innovations is built around the principle of helping its clients with disabilities get the same opportunities as people without disabilities. The nonprofit agency helps clients integrate into their communities as well as find employment and homes. "The heart of our agency is a social justice mission to help disabled people take their rightful place in our society," says says Tom Heinz, Executive Director of East Bay Innovations (EBI).

EBI works with a variety of organizations, including Hacienda, to find homes for its clients. Four clients currently have households in affordable units within residential complexes found at Hacienda. The agency also works with about 70 companies that hire disabled people who make the same wages as their non-disabled peers.

Some jobs held by EBI's developmentally disabled clients may seem surprising. Hospitals, office stockrooms, the Alameda County district attorney's office, and the Alameda Sheriff's office are among the places where EBI clients work.

The agency has successfully matched its clients with a variety of employers, including auto body shops, dental practices, and a small chemical company that has about 30 employees.

"If you have a business that has a job with tasks that may be complicated but are systematic and you have turnover in that job, you want to contact us because we may have a solution," says Heinz.

San Leandro-based Copper Harbour, for example, has a niche business that produces chemicals on a small-scale basis. It needed an employee who could put a big label on a big container. The labels are expensive and need to be placed perfectly virtually every time. Until it worked with EBI, Copper Harbour had difficulty finding the right person for that job. "It wasn't an exciting job, but it was a super important job," says Heinz. The agency found a client able to do the work so well and so consistently, it was "almost magical." Now Copper Harbour's label problems are a thing of the past.

One EBI client produces high-quality work sterilizing dental equipment at a pediatric dental service. Another has worked at a Montessori preschool for several years. The point is that disabled individuals, just like others, have a variety of skills and talents that can benefit both companies and communities. That's important information for business owners facing a labor shortage in the Bay Area.

"Statewide, we're dealing with 85 to 95 percent unemployment among people with developmental disabilities," notes Heinz. "That is an incredible untapped resource at a time when businesses are looking for employees."

EBI also works closely with HireAble, another local nonprofit that connects East Bay businesses to capable employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Both agencies stress that there is a huge return on investment when people with developmental disabilities are placed in jobs, including coaching and training services that are funded by the state of California and help insure success and high retention rates among their clients who get hired.

"There's a whole history of people with developmental disabilities not being valued as full members of our communities," says Heinz. He is working hard to change that. While the State of California provides some funds to his agency, additional funding is needed to keep it afloat. From November 24 to December 4, 2017 you can support EBI's mission by bidding on items in its third annual online auction.

For more information about East Bay Innovations, visit www.eastbayinnovations.org.

For more information about its online auction, visit www.facebook.com/ebiauction.

For more information about HireAble, visit www.hireable.org.

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