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'Back to better' for day services and employment programs post-pandemic

Man and woman look at a computer screen in the Salem library.
Tom and Jazmin look up a book using the computer system at the Salem Public Library. LEAP community-based groups often visit the library to enjoy the books and other library programming.

Shangri-La's Community Employment Services (CES) Program and Life Enrichment Activities Program (LEAP) are recovering and redefining their 'new normal' post-pandemic, partly through support from a $455,000 capacity and restoration grant through the Oregon Department of Human Services.

During the pandemic, LEAP, a day program for adults with IDD, saw a significant decline in participants due to social distancing requirements, which prevented LEAP groups from gathering. Some individuals maintained services through virtual programming, but online programming was less successful for many.

As of October 2023, LEAP is starting to resemble its pre-pandemic self. Currently, 44 individuals are participating in LEAP services as opposed to the 13 that attended virtually during the pandemic. Eight in-person, community-based groups are back up and running, and the LEAP team of direct support professionals has grown to five members.

Virtual services have continued for those individuals who thrived with the online format, and the community-based groups are present in their community daily -- visiting local attractions, using public resources like the library, volunteering, or attending events.

"It has been exciting to see friends reconnect. Some of [the LEAP participants] 'lost themselves' during the pandemic, and we are now seeing them get back to their old selves," said Melissa Robnett, LEAP manager.

A younger man holds up a piece of paper at chest height.
Tylor, pictured above holding his job offer letter, was recently hired by Cascade Home Store. This is Tylor's first job and he is excited to save some money and build new skills.

On the other hand, the Community Employment Services (CES) program, which helps job seekers with IDD, saw an increase in their caseload during the pandemic. Their focus post-pandemic has been on growing their job coach and employment specialist team -- including the addition of bilingual team members -- to better support the nearly 65 individuals in services. Additionally, pre-employment soft skills training moved back to an in-person format.

The grant funds from the Oregon Department of Human Services have supported recruiting and training new team members and expanding the program's vehicle fleet.

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