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by Steven Nix-Ennen

SBJ Contributing Writer

Lakes Country Rehabilitation Services is a reservoir of hope for the Springfield work force. The private not-for-profit organization is instrumental in placing trained employees with area firms, as well as helping many community residents reset their courses in society. The process creates productive workers with a growing sense of self-worth and gives employers a reliable work force as well as perks such as tax breaks.

Incorporated in 1974, Lakes Country offers placement services for people with disabilities, such as functional limitations, educational or employment disadvantages, and other challenges. But Lakes Country offers more than just job assistance. It helps clients adjust to travel, housing and dealing with a workplace climate. Many times clients need help with the steps to a GED or a driver's license, or even understanding Springfield's public transportation system.

"We make certain the whole person is being addressed, not just the job issues," said Carolyn Stalnaker, Lakes Country coordinator of supported employment services. "It is hard to go to work if you don't have a place to live, or food to eat, or child care."

Lakes Country, accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, offers training, counseling and assimilation into a productive career and life path.

Obstacles of its clients run the gamut from a back injured in a strenuous line of work, to wrist problems from carpal tunnel syndrome, to more severe problems, such as behavioral or emotional challenges, mental illness or retardation.

"It's anything that is going to effect somebody's life," Stalnaker said. "It might mean somebody who has hurt their back in a strenuous job and can no longer work in that environment."

Through state agencies, physician referrals and word-of-mouth, people make their way to Lakes Country to find guidance and redirection of their career paths and, often, their lives.

"The first step is a comprehensive evaluation," Stalnaker said. "We need to figure out what their strengths are. Once we get all of this information, we start on the vocational objective."

Then, she explained, the client is ready to acquire skills that will help him or her assimilate into the work force. Lakes Country offers skills-training programs in building maintenance, where clients learn how to take care of a physical facility; food service, with everything from dishwashing to cooking skills; and janitorial operations.

Each curriculum is an intensive 12- to 20-week course designed to implement job skills and help clients understand the responsibilities and demands of the work force.

Lakes Country has 100 people guiding clients to their new courses in life. An employee workshop follows to help clients adapt to the workplace.

Lakes Country also has an Employment Career Development specialist, Kelly Parsons, who works with the community to find the best client-employer matches available.

"Many come out ready to go to work," Stalnaker said. "But we make sure they are ready for the workplace before we send them to any employers. A lot of times, we are serving more as a vocational counselor."

Occasionally this means a little more time and guidance for some employees. Resume writing, applications, even drug and alcohol counseling may enter the picture.

Job readiness training prepares the individuals for the active job search generated by an interactive relationship between Lakes Country and area employers. Lakes Country also offers an on-site employment training specialist, who works as a job coach for those who need greater assistance.

Most often, employee wages are figured on a scale measured by the working pace of a company's rank and file. If the Lakes Country clients are a step slower in production or assembly, etc., then their wages reflect that difference.

Since the vast majority of Lakes Country clients approach the organization in order to find work, employers can count on a motivated and loyal employee.

"They usually get a reliable employee who is there every day, honest," said Stalnaker.

There are other benefits, as well. Companies who use Lakes Country employees are entitled to a work opportunity tax credit, providing employers with an incentive of up to $2,400 per employee.

Although many who utilize the services and training of Lakes Country are located in Springfield, Lakes Country also offers a rural employment-assistance program designed to help people obtain employment closer to where they live.

Lakes Country also has locations in Joplin, Rolla and West Plains. And, there are residential services, as well.

Lakes Country's Carol Jones Recovery Center for Women also offers guidance and substance-abuse counseling for women and their families.

Lakes Country is funded primarily by the state of Missouri, but private assistance is welcome, and the center is always seeking to make new contacts in the business community.

LAKES COUNTRY REHABILITATION CENTER:

2626 W. College Street Road

PO Box 1277

Springfield

417-862-1753

PHOTO CAPTION:

Tania Clemens, Rodney Middleton, Irene Martinez and Tina Maples, employees at Lakes Country Rehabilitation Center, demonstrate a task the center's clients perform boxing Rawlings balls. Steven Nix-Ennen's spotlight appears on page 10.[[In-content Ad]]

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