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Missouri Workshop Model Has National Significance

The Missouri Model for sheltered workshops is an important distinction for the operation of these nonprofit, small businesses.

Rob Libera, MASWM vice president and director of Lafayette Work Center and Lafayette Industries North, said many in Missouri don’t realize how unique the state’s workshops are. Many around the country could benefit by broader application of the philosophy.

This article is from the January 2020 MASWM newsletter. Download the PDF here.
“The Missouri Model for sheltered workshops is a model for the country,” Rob explained. “It gives extended employment options to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It provides more choice, especially for anyone who chooses to work in a workshop and who tried competitive employment and wasn’t able to hold those positions.”

Other factors are important, especially during a time when community employment is sometimes suggested as the only solution. “Missouri Model workshops provide stability in a safe environment,” Rob said. “They offer workers a sense of purpose, socialization and provide an economic return for both the community and the state of Missouri.”

This is not a new development. As they have for half a century, Missouri workshops serve thousands of workers with disabilities. These Missourians average 15 years or longer at their jobs, bringing significant, positive impact to their lives and the families involved.

Eric Giebler, director of Empac Group Employment Resources in Sullivan, notes that the Missouri Model evolved to a significant degree for financial reasons. “Missouri workshops get no federal money,” he said. “Most workshops around the country get federal money and Medicaid. Our model is based on far fewer dollars coming in, and we focus significantly on production.”

That difference has other outcomes. Missouri workshops tend to focus a lot on their communities, including the jobs they can offer. “We’re heavily into community employment here,” Eric said of the Sullivan workshop. “We’re looking for whatever job is available and what employees are interested in.”

Choice and options play other roles. “We’ve got a smooth avenue to community employment,” Eric added. “But if they have trouble, they can come back to the shop. Then, if they want to try it again, they can. It’s balanced.”

The Missouri Model sees workshops operating essentially as small businesses. A few have 200 workers or more with disabilities, but many have far less than that. Like most, the Sullivan shop earns from 70-80 percent of its revenue from production. “It’s based upon productivity and not on heavy subsidies,” Eric said.

Rob notes many critics seem to have never visited a workshop. “A lot of them need to see workshops firsthand to understand,” he said. “They haven’t seen a workshop; they haven’t talked to the parents. Listening to the experiences of parents who have struggled to place a child in competitive employment is eye-opening.”

Eric agreed. “This is about more options, not less,” he concluded. “It’s really an individualized, personal plan to success.”

Both agreed that one of the most disheartening criticisms seems to stem from those who see all people with disabilities as identical, assuming they can all do a certain level of work and thrive in certain conditions. “To lump everyone with disabilities into one category and say there’s one solution is really insulting to those individuals,” Rob said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

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MASWM The Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers
If you have questions, please contact:
President Rob Libera – (636) 227-5666 or rlibera@lafayetteindustries.com
or Legislative Chair Kit Brewer – (314) 647-3300 or cbrewer@cuinc.org