Community in a Box

This is an idea I first heard from Susan Rzucidlo. I’ve subsequently heard similar ideas about employment opportunities at a forum I attended at Drexel University. This idea about solving multiple problems wit a “community in a box” is intriguing. I would like to tackle one problem at a time and so believe the jobs listed below are great ideas to help solve employment problems for people with disabilities and autism. I’m sure that you have more ideas and I’d be happy to hear about them.

Envision an office building in a small to medium sized town. This office building would be a “business mall” with offices and private companies housed inside its walls. It would be a place where home-based companies could rent a conference room or office space for meetings, video conferencing abilities and small gatherings but some of the support staff would be individuals with disabilities.  There would also be a Adult Day Habilitation program that would provide activities and support for individuals with a wide variety of disabilities, MR, MH, Autism.

This site could merely be a jumping off place for someone going to work using public transportation, but it could be a full day program but one that offers community involvement for individuals; meeting their needs and expanding their connection to world. This Day Habilitation program would have to be fluid in what was offered. It would also be the home base for cottage industries owned, operated and or worked in by individuals with disabilities that could be developed and supported there in the building or moved off site as the business takes form.  The Day Habilitation part of the program would need to include work, (paid and volunteer) recreational and downtime areas for the much needed breaks for individuals but there would also be in house mini-businesses where individuals with disabilities could work at businesses of their own in offices or worksite there but have a level of supervision as they need.

Some ideas include the following. And there would also need to be a number of volunteer opportunities that would improve the community and fill needs that go unmet (which can be met by a timebank).

For higher functioning For lower functioning
Renting conference rooms and supply video conferencing sites Baking pet treats
Art and craft industries and renting studio space Micro businesses laundry, shopping, errands…
Renting commercial kitchens to small business owners Copying
Create and maintain a bike rental to be used in small towns Creating PEC books on special order for families and professionals
Renting a commercial kitchen Selling items at the town Farmers Market
Web design Subscription herb gardens to sell to local restaurants
Franchises Working with the community gleaning program
Recycling electronics (connect with companies) Shredding services
Building bee & bat houses Meals on Wheels volunteers
Tool lending Library (people with disabilities repairing and maintaining tools, running the shop….) Working at churches, senior centers and other places that need volunteers
Building solar panels
Red Box movie kiosks Refilling ink cartridges for businesses
Vending machines Laminating
Buying produce at local auctions or the Common Market and delivering to sites for sale or delivery to areas without grocery stores Hallmark card business
Gardening in the community garden
Volunteer at the town food bank, library, schools, fire department and local government offices
Make environmentally sound grocery bags or totes using recycled materials.


In order to do this there would need to be a team developed from the business community, MH/IDD, providers, self advocates, advocates, and interested private citizens.

The interests and abilities of the individuals who are served would drive these work opportunities. The day habilitation program would provide support for all of the businesses in that building. They would offer the janitorial staff and services for all businesses in the building such as but not limited to, copying, packaging and shipping. There would also be a small in-house Laundromat, which would offer fluff and fold for workers in the building and hopefully there would be a restaurant or spa facility in the building. They would use the in-house Laundromat for their needs. Individuals with disabilities would do the laundry and deliver it to the businesses in the building. There may even be apartments on a top level for our folks and community people to rent and live in.

Some individuals with disabilities can and should be encouraged to work out in the general community in which case this building can be a starting and ending point of the day. It would be open at 7 am and close at 7 pm. People would be coming and going all day depending on their work schedule. Focusing on community employment and entrepreneurship, this would also be a place to match compatible individuals who would work, side by side on a job site, increasing productivity, companionship and possibly reducing the length of time for a job coach and how many people would have the need for a life long job coach.

Waiver funds would pay for the care and supervision of individuals during those times, Individuals without waiver funding would be referred to MH/MR for help in finding additional funding support and private pay on a sliding scale would be available.

There would be also have to be an expanded day program part of the Day Habilitation that would include community outings and other activities that would be appropriate and even fun for the individual. This program would have to include something meaningful to each person.  It could be a visit from pet therapist. I also wonder about including a “doggie daycare” component occasionally (that may be way out there but why not think about it)   trips out, movies in, visiting musicians from local schools, presentations….

There are many needs in a small to medium sized town and individuals who may not be able to work competitively but want to do something in the community could volunteer at the town food bank, library, schools, Fire Departments and local government offices. The staff would make those connections and work opportunities would happen at the community site as often as possible as opposed to only at the Day Habilitation site.

Volunteers, families and community organizations will need to be utilized to keep the program growing and able to meet the needs of the individuals it serves. It would be important to work with SCORE and other agencies like that in order to help individuals become successful.

This is still a very rough and there are a lot of moving parts but this could be a model that could effectively meet many needs and be a way to incorporate many marginalized people into the community. I think it is worth exploring.

Susan F. Rzucidlo
SPEAK Unlimited Inc
(610) 659-3145
To serve those who serve, to help those in need © 3/2011

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