Special Needs Financial Planning
Happy New Year!
Hopefully everyone is off to a great start in 2018.  I have had a very busy January so far. We have had many calls at Crescendo to kick off the year as individuals are focused on their New Year’s Resolution of getting “financially fit”. We appreciate that people are prioritizing their financial needs, and feel there is no better time than a New Year to do so. 
Crescendo Special Needs Planning
When I meet with prospects, or new clients who have loved ones with special needs, I share that I am first and foremost a Financial Advisor.  My job is to assist clients with identifying, developing and implementing their financial goals as it relates to themselves as parent(s), as well as providing for their loved one with special needs throughout their child’s lifetime.  

I have learned however over the past few years that as much as parents are concerned about providing for their child’s financial well being, they also want to insure the child themselves have the opportunity if possible to participate in this process. With that being said, this January edition of Crescendo Notes focuses on one area of a parent’s concern for their child with special needs: 
Will my child be able to work and earn their own income?    
Employment for Individuals with Disabilities
I am excited to introduce an individual right here in our community (Ozaukee County) who has devoted his career to helping find jobs for individuals with disabilities.    Andy Harrigan is the owner, but more importantly the visionary of Harrigan Development Services.   

Click  here to learn more about their Team and Services. Andy was kind enough to sit down with me this month to share his story and the tremendous impact he and his team are making.  
Below is an excerpt of our interview:
1) Tell me what inspired you to start your own business?
I always wanted to start a business, my family has a history of being business owners. My great grandfather had a potato farm, and my father had his own business. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs.  And, then I was always drawn to individuals in school who were struggling, not just those who have disabilities, but those on the outskirts.  That is kind of ingrained in me. While I was in college, this was my first work experience. I was an aid in a school which was focused on kids with autism. This sparked my interest and I knew I wanted to work with kids who have autism. After undergrad, I came back to Milwaukee for graduate school, one of my jobs was working as a Line Therapist providing ABA therapy to individuals with autism.  Line therapy is great, but there are limitations as you must provide all of the therapy within the home. As a result, I saw a huge need to do community based therapy . I also realized that there was a gap after high school in services.   10 years ago, when I was doing line therapy there were a lot of businesses opening who were focused on kids. I did an informal study, and I asked the parents what their greatest fear was, and a lot of them said, “what happens after school?”.   

I started talking to different organizations that I knew existed to help people with disabilities, and I talked to one company who does job placement, and I liked that a lot. I started working for a DVR (Division of Vocational Services) service provider, and I started to get to know DVR at the state level and their employees. One week after graduating graduate school, I sat down with one of the directors of DVR, and she gave me a contract to be a DVR Service provider. I didn’t really have a business, therefore I really needed to take some time to figure out what it took to start and run a business!
2) How you have created Harrigan Development Services, and how has it evolved?
If I could divide the business into two separate parts, one is the Employment (Vocational) piece, and the other is Supportive Services. 
We have done employment since day one.  Job placement – our clients are all individuals who have a state qualified disability which range from mild learning cognitive, we have worked with cancer survivors, Traumatic Brain Injury, all across the board. Ages range from individuals in high school to seniors - there is no limit to our clients age. It is always paid employment . We may help with job exploration , but we are trying to find paid internships, or paid employment. 

The second part is Supportive Services - -individual mentoring, peer groups, and social skills groups.  It came about because it was a very clear need. Our clients were asking for it, and we would see young adults who finished high school and did not have any social outlets.  The very first thing we did in pilot was to organize a get together for 18-30 year old’s in Cedarburg at Cedars III bowling, and we had 10-15 families who showed up. They were far too isolated , and they needed something. 

Peer Groups(Compass) for 18-30-year olds, most adults are higher functioning, they meet every Wednesday on a weekly basis. For example, last week they were at Glaze, a Pottery Studio in Mequon-Theinsville. The main purpose is to expose them to social environments, give them an opportunity to meet some peers and maybe make some friends.  We don’t really use a curriculum for that, it’s casual, which is intentional. Compass participants have been through a lot of programming, they haven’t had someone to encourage them to just go and have fun.   We try not to keep it too serious, keep it laid back, and we have seen a lot of friendships evolve with members because of that.  I think if we were to push an agenda, I don’t believe they would want to come back. Or they would not want to come back!

Individual mentoring - we hire either college age students or recent grads who have some type of background in working with individuals with disabilities, or they are studying education, social work, or counseling in college. A few of our staff are actual interns from University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, or Mount Mary, the rest are part time employees. Their focus is to help the clients they work with become more independent .  Positive behaviors, role modeling, independent living and social skills.  We try to provide more exposure, so if parents feel their child is isolated, we work to find ways to engage them in the community.  The mentor is with them in the community, sometimes it’s just initially until the client is comfortable to be independent, or they may be with their mentor all the time.
3) Is there a graduation period?
Most of the families we have worked with through mentoring, they may master a goal that has been set, and usually the family or individual wants to continue, they just change the goal. There is always something to work on.
4) Where do the individuals receive funding for those services?
Partially private pay, for our groups, and mentoring maybe 10-15% private pay, the rest funded through County – Contracted through Ozaukee County Waiver, CCS – which provides funding for individuals with a mental health diagnosis.  We also work with Child Protective Services, just beginning to work with individuals through the Juvenile Justice Program.

It works for other populations, not just the disabled because my focus is to help individuals who are facing barriers, and have challenges. What’s the barrier, or challenge vs. the disability.  I don’t believe there is an expert in a disability, we are just working with the barriers, and challenges of the individuals.
5) How do you know who would be a good fit as an employee for your clientele?
I was a one man show for a year and a half, and I realized I didn’t want to try and do everything myself. Initially it was job development, and I knew I wanted to bring someone one.

I realized there was a benefit to hire folks who are retired and semi-retired. They have time, interest in helping, and connected with lots of life experience. Most of our job developers have been there, and done that and are in this demographic. And they have lived in the community for a long time which helps to find businesses to place clients.   Harrigan is on Year 7 , and we have had a lot of the same staff. Haven’t had a lot of staff turnover! 

Supportive Services side we try to look at the schools, students in programs to see that they have an interest, those who are majoring in counseling, social work and/or education programs.   
6) Do you feel the school system prepares the disabled individual and their parents for the transition from school to life?
I feel like they are doing the best job they can with the resources they have. But there are some schools that make it work better than others. It makes a significant difference for his firm when they have a student who was engaged and taken out into the business community and given exposure to work.  If they haven’t had any exposure to work until age 17 or older, it’s often a challenge. 

My advice to parents, freshman year of high school, try to get your child engaged in something.  DVR has a program the takes students earlier than age 16 or 17 to begin to get involved in the community. The old DRV rule was that you had to be 2 years from graduating high school to be a DVR consumer. If you can stay in school until 21, that starts @ 19. The state has realized that there needs to be a focus on younger students. And work skills need to be taught younger.

We offer a soft skills group to freshman and sophomores in high school, we meet at Fiddleheads in Cedarburg every week. We work on soft skills like interviewing talking about eye contact, body language, how do you appropriately answer questions. During off weeks they are in the field at an actual business. For example, they visited Costco to take a tour, and complete a question and answer with current.
7) How do your clients find you?
We send out email blasts to communicate these programs to lists we have developed over the years to school principals, individuals in the community, the county, etc. A lot of it is word of mouth. We get quite a few calls via word of mouth for services.  More than half of the calls are word of mouth.
8) With the unemployment rate so low, have you seen businesses over the time that you have been in business become more open to employing individuals with disabilities? 
I have found businesses overall today compared to my first year that yes, they are more open.  Sometimes I wonder if we have just figured out we are doing, which involves how we approach businesses, but I do think that businesses in general are more willing to take these individuals on and work with them. It’s more common than it used to be. I also started my business not too long after 2008 and 2009 which was the last recession, and I didn’t really know any different, but if I look at then compared to now there is more willingness. 
9) And you work with all sizes of businesses?
Yes, we work with all the national retailers who are here locally, Home Depot, Meijer, Marshall’s, Costco.  All the way down to the one man shop in downtown Cedarburg, we really look at each individual, identify what it is they want to do and what environment would be good for them, and we look into the community, find a match, and then approach that business.  
10) If money and resources were no object, what do you believe individuals with disabilities need the most which would eliminate some barriers they may have to greater independence?   
I think that HOUSING is number one or number two, within the top two for sure. Many of the clients we are working with, not just job placement, but supportive services fall in the higher functioning autism category, and I see them having so much capability to live alone, but they need to be in the right environment . If there could be something where they have the opportunity to move out from their parents , and live independently, but there must be good supports.  And someone to encourage them not to isolate themselves.  I say this a lot because I see a lot of isolation.  I define isolation as someone who is no longer in the school system, and spends three fourths, or the entire day in their parent’s house. Either they are not confident to go and try new things, or they don’t have the opportunity. So they are staying at home watching TV, and playing video games. If from day one when they move into a housing environment there would be supports to help them understand what it takes to live on their own, and have encouragement to not to stay in the apartment alone all day.  
A special thanks to Andy for taking the time to talk with me and share his story. I hope you appreciated
all that he and his team are doing to help families like yours promote and engage in employment!
529 ABLE Savings Account Updates
With employment being the topic of this month’s newsletter, it is fitting for me to again mention one of the several updates to the 529 ABLE Savings Accounts that have been made as we kick off 2018.   The ABLE to Work Act would allow ABLE Account Owners who are employed the ability to possibly contribute above the $15,000 annual contribution limit (possibly up to an additional $12,060 depending on the gross income of the account owner). The contributions above the $15,000 annual contribution limit would be limited to contributions made specifically by the account owner into their ABLE account.

  • Questions remain about aspects of the provision relating to these increased contributions and may require guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

More to follow on this, but it is important to know that there are individuals with special needs who are limiting the hours they are working because of the fear of having their public benefits reduced, or cancelled if they earn too much income. Seems completely counterintuitive for all that the public schools, DVR, and organizations such as Harrigan Development Services are attempting to promote. More to follow on this, and housing too in future newsletters. 
When: Tuesday January 30th @ Noon
What: ABLE Accounts and Special Needs Trust, What can 529 ABLE Accounts accomplish?
with who: Jessica Liebau - Attorney at Law - Wessels Law Office LLC
Who:  Down Syndrome Association of WIsconsin
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