Customized Employment

As part of our mission to help people with disabilities live independently, we collaborate with the Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation (DETR) on a Customized Employment Program, which provide assistance to job seekers with disabilities who need additional services to become qualified for employment.

As Lead Job Developer, Kristen Darnielle is responsible for helping people with disabilities find work in fulfilling jobs that match up with their talents and contributions. She shares the story of Kaycee Respicio who suffered from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) at the age of 22. Though she faces many challenges, Kaycee was anxious to get back to work.

Kaycee Respecio“Her vocational goal is art, she wants to be surrounded by creativity,” Kristen explains. “We talked to Matt Polley, the owner of The Jungle and he was very receptive to talking to her about a job, even though he was in the middle of a huge remodel.”

In March 2015, Kaycee went to work for The Jungle as a barista assistant, making $8.25 an hour. Matt says she’s one of the best employees he’s ever had. “Kaycee has been an excellent employee, she takes great direction and she fits in very well with the rest of my crew,” he says. “She’s one of the best employees I have. She definitely raises the bar.”

“The Jungle is in the heart of Artown, giving her access to a good job surrounded by creativity,” Kristen says. “She’s looking forward to displaying some of her own artwork there at some point.”

Kaycee’s is only one success story, but Kristen has plenty of others and she’s working on even more. “It does take a lot of effort, but it’s so worth it when we make these matches,” she says. “Our clients are much happier doing work they enjoy and the businesses are getting employees who are truly happy to be there.”

Kristen’s job is made more challenging by the perception that people with special needs can’t contribute in the workplace. “People are afraid of what they don’t understand,” she says. “They’re afraid of liability and that the training will be too hard, so they don’t want to deal with it.”

We address this by doing the research up-front and helping out with the training. Kristen attends on-site training with her clients so that she understands expectations, then she works with them to make sure they’re fully prepared to take on the task at hand. She also acts as their advocate, helping them continue to learn and to voice any concerns that might come up.

Matt says he was hesitant to get involved with the program because he had a lot going on, including a major remodel and a new baby. “The program has actually been really easy to work with,” he says. “Kristen was really on top of it. She made a great match for us.”

If you’re interested in more information, please contact Kristen Darnielle at (775) 353-3599 or