Opening opportunities


MOKA’s Supported Employment Program supports individuals on their path to find, maintain employment

Jaicarri wanted more than days spent playing video games or going to the movies.

After excelling in MOKA’s Skill Building Program, Jaicarri realized he was ready for more too. He signed on for MOKA’s Supported Employment Program and gained the skills necessary for successful employment.

Jaicarri started working at Muskegon’s Red Robin in April 2019 and was honored as employee of the month twice – garnering him free food for a week, recognition by his managers, and the pride that comes from a job well done.

“It’s a really good thing having a job,” Jaicarri says. “You get to make money. It keeps you out of trouble, it keeps you exercising, and it keeps you going in life.”

MOKA has offered supported employment since the 1990s, providing a variety of job coaching and job readiness training. Job mentors work with participants on applications and resumes, interview skills, and interpersonal skills.

The goal is to find the right fit for an individual’s interests, skills, and personality and encourage the highest level of independence wherever they work.

“We like to be really thoughtful in that support and just take the time to get to know people, but also find the right employer so that it’s a win-win as much as possible,” says Joni McCollum, Program Manager of Community Supports for Ottawa and Muskegon Counties.

Joni met Jaicarri through the Skill Building Program and has watched him blossom into a confident young man.

“He has a really good spirit and energy about him, and he is also an enthusiastic team member wherever he’s at,” Joni says.

“Once we saw him be confident, he was able to transfer that at work. You can be a leader at any level. You might not be the boss, but you can still inspire the people around you and do the right thing.”

MOKA’s Supported Employment Program serves adults of varying abilities who have a goal of finding employment as part of their person-centered plan. Participants can access a variety of services, including employment assessments, skill and interest inventories, mock interviews, hands-on work experiences, job readiness classes, leadership curriculum and more.

MOKA employees also help job seekers address potential barriers to employment such as use of public transportation, skills mastery, time management, task completion, conflict resolution, and on-site job coaching and training, including setting up work stations.

Mentors provide a continuum of support based the on strengths and needs of each individual. Supported Employment participants receive ongoing support and can reach out to their MOKA mentor if they have any on-the-job issues or concerns.

The focus is not only on helping individuals find employment, but maintaining employment and succeeding on the job. Eighty-three percent of individuals in the program remained employed for at least a year.

“We have relationships with employers, yet believe the job seeker is as unique as each job,” Joni says. “It is important a person cares about where they work and that they have joy in what they do to increase retention, and how much a person invests in their work. We always ask individuals what they prefer, what their dream job is, where they see themselves working and why.”

Joni has worked at MOKA for more than 16 years and started out as a job coach. She has helped place people in a wide variety of jobs: animal care at John Ball Zoo, hospitality and food service, and lead removal in houses. Individuals find work at restaurants, retail stores, custodial jobs, golf courses, and medical offices.

“I have done every training under the sun at McDonald’s but also have gone and helped someone do medical billing,” Joni says. “I think there are so many things that we can help connect people to do to help them have meaningful lives and connect with employment, because really I think that’s what so many people want.”

Jaicarri started MOKA’s skill building program in 2017 and quickly took an interest in learning as much as possible to help him get a job. He took initiative and valued opportunities that helped him increase his skills.

“Jaicarri cares a great deal about culture, integrity, and contributing to something positive,” Joni says. “During our leadership activities, Jaicarri demonstrated interest and passion for helping others, cultivating team work, and an enthusiasm to work hard.”

After a few months in the Skill Building Program, Jaicarri stepped up to help in any way and showed an interest in learning all he could. Joni remembers him thanking her for letting him try new things. One day, he came in and told Joni that he started watching the Military Channel to learn how to be a better leader.

“He is somebody that inspires our other individuals to meet their goals,” Joni says.

“We’ve had several individuals go ‘Well, I don’t want to be in the Skill Building Program if I can go work like Jaicarri.’ He’s inspiring his peers and I think that is a really neat thing.”

Jaicarri cleared the idea of a job with his mom, and MOKA employees helped him on his job search. They explored different opportunities that would match his specific needs, including location, hours, culture, skills required and most importantly what he prefers.

Red Robin checked off all the boxes. His Community Supports Mentor Katie Larson helped him apply and interview.

“No matter what role he is in, he tries to stay positive,” Joni says “He’s a neat guy to talk to. He’s got a really strong compass.”

At Red Robin, Jaicarri stayed flexible and willing to learn, filling in where needed as a janitor, busser, dishwasher, and on the food prep line. Joni visited him at work one day, and he showed off the note posted on the Recognition Board: “Jaicarri, in the short time you have been here, it is great to see the progress and attention to detail you do each and every day. We appreciate the hard work you do every day and are glad you have become a busser for us on Fri, Sat, and Sun. Keep up the good work. We are better with you being here.”

Jaicarri continues to serve as a role model for other MOKA participants while focusing on his own growth and goals.

“There is more to life than just sitting around,” Jaicarri says. “Sometimes, I tell certain people ‘look, what you do sitting around all day is not going to get it. It’s not going to get you what you want out of life. It’s not going to get you where you want to be.’”

MOKA’s Supported Employment Program gives individuals the chance to earn their own money, gain self-confidence, and make a difference where they live and work.

“I’m just really excited that we have an opportunity to continue supporting people to have meaningful work in the community that’s integrated,” Joni says. “It’s connecting them as part of our community, and they’re able to contribute just like you and I.”



Story by Marla Miller. Photo by Lara Parent.