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Scott Walker, Governor
Reginald J. Newson, Secretary

Department of Workforce Development
Secretary's Office

201 E. Washington Avenue
P.O. Box 7946
Madison, WI 53707-7946
Telephone: (608) 266-3131
Fax: (608) 266-1784
Email: sec@dwd.wisconsin.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 6, 2015
CONTACT: DWD Communications, 608-266-2722
On the Web: http://dwd.wisconsin.gov/dwd/news.htm
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On Twitter: @WIWorkforce

Wisconsin Promise Meets America's Pastime: Vocational Rehabilitation Consumer Pursues Employment Goal at Madison Mallards' Duck Pond

Ballpark food service employee demonstrates success in grant-funded program to increase independence for youth during 'Take Your Legislator to Work' visit, tour with state legislator

MADISON – Michael Bender, a vocational rehabilitation consumer who works at the Madison Mallards Duck Pond, is one of hundreds of Wisconsin youth taking part in Wisconsin Promise, a nationally funded grant program designed to improve employment and education outcomes of young people with disabilities and their families.

On Wednesday, August 5, Bender met with state Rep. Keith Ripp of Lodi, whose district includes Bender's hometown of Rio, at the Northwoods League team's ballpark for a visit and tour. The tour was the first in the Wisconsin Promise Take Your Legislator to Work series to highlight Wisconsin Promise in communities around the state and encourage eligible individuals to enroll. Joining Representative Ripp and Bender at the Duck Pond were staff from the Department of Workforce Development's (DWD) Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which is administering the grant program.

"We know that when youth with disabilities work while they complete their education, they develop skills that move them toward greater independence and economic self-sufficiency," DWD Secretary Reggie Newson said. "We are proud to be the lead agency implementing Wisconsin Promise, and pleased that the Madison Mallards are giving this energetic and motivated young man an opportunity to pursue his employment goals and contribute to the success of the Madison Mallards. We also encourage youth and families who may be eligible to apply for the program today."

Bender works at the Stoddards Smokehouse, where he prepares and delivers ballpark customers' food orders. "I want to work in sports. Working here lets me learn more about it."

Rep. Ripp said: “I am very grateful to participate in the Take Your Legislator to Work event because I had the opportunity to learn firsthand how the Wisconsin Promise grant truly benefits young individuals with disabilities. After meeting Michael and listening to his experiences while touring his workplace at the Duck Pond, you can see how excited and thankful he is to engage in this program and become an active member within his local community.”

Wisconsin Promise is a demonstration project intended to improve education and employment services for youth SSI (Social Security Supplemental Security Income) recipients and their families. Plans call for 2,000 youth, between the ages of 14-16, receiving SSI and their families to be enrolled through April 2016, with about half receiving grant-supported services and the other half receiving traditional DVR case management services.

The grant program was launched in early 2014, which Governor Walker declared as Year of A Better Bottom Line to encourage more businesses to employ people with disabilities and learn how these workers can improve a company's bottom line.

Key services offered to Wisconsin Promise youth and their families are work experiences, work incentives benefits counseling, financial literacy, connections to community resources, labor market information, and education and training. Bender and his family are currently working with a DVR counselor as part of the program.

Madison Mallard's General Manager, Tyler Isham, said, "Most of our employees are young people and for many of them, this is their first job. This was true for Michael as well so he was on the same footing as most of the people he was working with – our season is fairly short so everyone needed to learn a lot really quickly. It's our job as managers to help our employees discover their strengths so that they are doing a job that uses those strengths. Having a disability didn't change that or make it any different for Michael. He is a great employee."

Wisconsin is one of six sites selected for a Promise grant. Along with Wisconsin, Promise grants were awarded to California, New York, Maryland, Arkansas, and a consortium of states that includes Utah, Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Other partnering state agencies include the Departments of Children & Families, Health Services and Public Instruction.

Wisconsin Promise Take Your Legislator to Work is modeled after a similar initiative developed by the Wisconsin Board for People with Development Disabilities (BPDD), which highlights how everyone wins when people with disabilities have community-integrated jobs.

In fiscal year 2014, DVR helped 4,415 job seekers with disabilities to achieve their employment goals.

To enroll or learn more about Wisconsin Promise, call (855) 480-5618 or visit: www.promisewi.com.

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