Finding a job and entering the workforce can be difficult, but it can be even more of a challenge for those with a physical or mental disability. One program in western Wisconsin is helping people with disabilities do just that. Riverfront’s ‘C.O.R.E.’ program began in La Crosse and is now being expanded to Jackson and Monroe counties.

Tonight, Fox 25/48’s Erin O’Brien has the story of one man who found success in the C.O.R.E. program and got a job that he loves.

Buddy Strickland enjoys his job as a janitor at ace hardware in La Crosse. I have a great job, and I’m around a lot of really great people, and they’re really nice. But things weren’t always so easy.

He had been searching for a job for months, with no luck. His mental disability seemed to be getting in the way like I wasn’t very good with the interviews, I didn’t know what to say, what not to say, stuff like that.

But then he found the C.O.R.E. program. C.O.R.E. stands for Career Opportunity Readiness and Enhancement. It’s one program offered by Riverfront, an organization that provides a variety of services to people with disabilities throughout western Wisconsin.

C.O.R.E. is a 12-week course in all things employment. The C.O.R.E.  graduates, when they’re finished with this program, are ready, they’re ahead of the curve, we’ve covered everything from behind the scenes employment search, behavioral skills, soft skills, etiquette, all the important things, the foundation to employment, what employers are looking for.

And students visit local businesses to learn what’s out there.  We ask them, what are their dream jobs, and then we push for that, we go for that. And then those skills continue to build and then that builds confidence, and that allows them to really go out and really perform at their best.

The students get lots of practice with soft skills, like communication and professionalism, but they also go out in the community to practice skills that we might take for granted, like cleaning. And while people with disabilities face a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the population according to the US Department of Labor, experts say that having a job can be a big help.

The same way any of us benefit, it gives us a sense of purpose in what we’re doing every day, which in turn can be a benefit to our mental health. It’s income, its socialization, and ultimately it’s a sense of pride that we’re contributing to the greater community. Those close to Buddy can see a difference in him since he started working at ACE.

He’s not as shy, he speaks up a little more, he’s pretty quiet guy so this is helping him become a little less quiet. And he gets a positive review from his boss.  You don’t have to worry about if he’s going to come or not, he’s always on time, he’s early, he comes and does his job, he’s always working, just a joy to be around.

But for Buddy what matters is simply the chance to work. It’s just a great opportunity, nice opportunity. Something to do.

In La Crosse, Erin O’Brien, Fox 25/48