Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential (LEAP)


Program Summary: Job Link is a program of Linking Employment, Abilities, and Potential (LEAP), a Cleveland Center for Independent Living serving people in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties since 1981. LEAP’s mission is to “empower people with disabilities in making significant life choices and changes to enhance their employment and independent living opportunities.”

A youth development and employment program, Job Link assists disadvantaged youth with disabilities in discovering their potential and planning for their future. The program instills attitudes, behaviors, and skills needed for youth to obtain and retain employment and become successful contributing members of their community. Job Link is a year round transition program providing work related and independent living skill training. It combines classroom instruction and community based training to address individual student needs and goals. The program aims to assist students in making a successful transition from school to employment and adult community life.

The three-year curriculum includes:

  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Self-awareness
  • Social interaction and interpersonal skills
  • Effective communication
  • Accessing community resources
  • Problem solving / conflict resolution
  • Setting goals/planning for the future
  • Employment-related skills


Program Structure/Design: Job Link is a career-oriented educational program housed in several Cleveland high schools, which supplements the school system’s transition services for special education students. The program provides in-school youth opportunities to develop skills that will help them to transition into careers and life beyond high school. During each school year, new ninth graders are identified for services to begin in tenth grade. Students participate in the program for three years with the option of two summers of work experience. Individualized services provided by the initiative are written into each student’s individual education plan’s transition services. Graduating seniors move into jobs with necessary supports.

Job Link annually serves about 100 students with developmental disabilities, including mental retardation, autism spectrum disorders, deafness and hearing loss. They also serve a population of students with developmental disabilities whose first language is Spanish. Students are served in 10th through 12th grade and after graduation.

Youth development and employment-related services are provided to high school students with disabilities in partnership with Cleveland Municipal School District, the City of Cleveland, the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission and the Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

A coordinator in each school meets twice a week with students in a small group session. The curriculum units focus on the individual, relationships with family and friends, future life planning, relationships with the community and all aspects of employment related issues. The summer program provides participants with 10 weeks of work experience in various departments at the Veterans Administration Medical Center facilities in Cleveland.

States of Operation: OH

Youth Targeted:
• In-school youth
• Runaway and homeless Youth
• Youth with disabilities
• Pregnant or parenting youth
• Youth offenders
• Youth in foster care or aging out
• Urban youth
• Minority youth

ODEP Funded: No
Profile Year: 2007


Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: Community employers are actively involved in Job Link. The Department of Veterans Affairs, InterContinental Hotels, VIP Plumbing, Tire Kingdom, Metal Fabricators, Top’s Grocery, County Library System, Sign Stage Theatre, Marriott Hotels, Social Security Administration and AG Bell School are a few employers that provide training facilities, job-seeking experiences, and employment sites. Many employers participate on career panels, conduct mock interviews that are videotaped and evaluated, provide job-shadowing opportunities, and hold informational interviews for the students, even when no openings are currently available. Employment sites offer short-term work experiences in a competitive setting, and several employers use these “community based work experiences” as a training step into permanent employment with their company. During the work experience, employers formally review students’ performance and provide feedback.

Job Link graduates secure employment with the assistance of Job Link’s employment specialists. Once an employer hires a Job Link graduate, Job Link provides significant support services, ranging from on-site and/or off-site coaching during the learning stages of a new job, sign language interpreter services, translation services for ESL participants, and monthly follow-up on students’ progress. The program encourages employers to contact the employment specialist when any issue comes up that might effect the youth’s employment. A few examples of employment acquired by Job Link youth include: teacher’s aide at a local school, a library page, human resources staff and a banquet line cook at a conference center, porter at a hotel, photo lab technician, home health aide, and inventory clerk. Students may participate in a summer employment training program coordinated and supervised by LEAP at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and other community sites.

Youth Development and Leadership: Job Link youth are encouraged to participate in leadership and development training opportunities such as the Ohio Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities Youth Leadership Forum, the Ohio Youth Leadership Summit, and the National Youth Leadership Network. In addition, Job Link encourages citizenship in the way of volunteerism and community service. The program was awarded two mini-grants from the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Case Western Reserve University to implement service learning projects.

One project involved a preschool at which Job Link students provided craft supplies and fairy tale books, and assisted the children in making puppets and puppet stages based on the stories. The children performed puppet shows for the Job Link students. The educational component of this project addressed language and performing arts standards for the Job Link students.

The second project allowed Job Link deaf and hard of hearing youth to connect with senior citizens at Columbus Colony Elderly Care, a facility which caters to seniors who are deaf. Job Link youth created videos of themselves and birthday cards and greetings which were sent to residents. This was followed up with visits to the facility during which the youth could interact and socialize with the senior citizens and practice their communication skills.

Many of the students are taking an American Sign Language class as their foreign language requirement and an important part of that class deals with “Deaf Heritage.” From their interactions with seniors, students learn something about deaf heritage. In terms of exposure to the world of work, students learn about the various past careers of the residents, and their journeys in getting there. Each student keeps a journal to write and record his or her experiences and to share with the other students. Group activities are also incorporated to develop team building and problem solving skills.

Job Link uses the diversity of the youth (socio-economic, racial, mental ability, physical ability, and deaf and hard of hearing) to break down barriers and help the students learn from one another and work together. The curriculum addresses self-advocacy and conflict resolution and lessons teach students how to respectfully disagree and encourage frank discussions about peoples’ differences. For example, the initiative promotes interest in deaf heritage and the achievements of persons with disabilities. Youth can attend open practices of the adult traveling basketball team of the Ohio Chapter of the National Deaf Athletic Association, becoming involved with adult role models, and participate in community activities of the Cleveland Chapter of the Black Deaf Advocates. Peer-to-peer mentoring is fostered within training facets of the program as well as through opportunities in which successful graduates of the program return to tell their stories and the lessons they learned to new participants.

Connecting Activities: In order to ensure comprehensive services, issues in all aspects of each participant’s school, home and community life are addressed on an individual basis. Job Link strives to shift the youths’ and their families’ perspective from entitlement to empowerment. Program coordinators assess each student’s individual needs and assist them in developing an individual plan. The student’s plans have specific questions to encourage self assessment and future planning. Staff also request input from parents and teachers. A strengths, needs, and interests inventory is part of the student plan which are redone annually and reviewed throughout the year by student and staff. Individual Needs Checklists are used to ensure the issues they have identified are addressed. The content of the curriculum continually evolves as the student’s needs, goals and opportunities change. Services are delivered in a small group structure based upon level of functioning and length of participation. This structure also allows individualized attention to each youth. Due to the multiple needs and barriers that youth with disabilities face, they require comprehensive wrap-around supports and services to achieve greater independence. Learning to access and take advantage of resources in the community helps to address those needs and to eliminate barriers. Each year the students are exposed to community based activities and they participate in discussions with speakers from various community services. This type of functional skills instruction leads to personal as well as employment and independent living skill development.

Support services provided for Job Link youth are frequently provided for family members as well, such as assisting with applications for Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits. Program staff facilitates access to services such as counseling, legal assistance, or medical/dental intervention. Comprehensive guidance and counseling services for substance abuse and mental health issues are available by referral to the Cuyahoga County Board of MRDD (serving persons with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities), and North East Ohio Health Services (serving persons who are deaf or hard of hearing). The curriculum unit covering health also addresses alcohol and drug prevention.

Referrals are made as appropriate to the State Rehabilitation Services Commission and the County Board of MRDD. Travel orientation, training, and assistance with special transportation are provided. Post-program support includes at least one year of follow-up and referral to appropriate adult services as needed.

Family Involvement and Supports: The initiative actively involves students’ family members and/or other significant adults in its activities such as planning meetings, career panels, holiday celebrations, community outings and observations of the program’s group instruction. As previously mentioned, Job Link frequently offers family members the support services provided to the students. Home visits are common in order to provide comprehensive service and obtain the involvement of parents and guardians. Job Link also provides interpreting services for students and family members at appointments, meetings or even between parents and students when no one in the home knows sign language. Translation services (English/Spanish) are provided to assist Spanish-speaking students and their families to understand school and agency correspondence or to facilitate meetings. Finally, the initiative organizes parent workshops on topics such as estate planning, guardianship, and life planning for a child with a disability. Job Link communicates with the family by telephone, home visits, notes and letters, flyers, newsletters, and family meetings for career planning.


Management: All of LEAP’s programs, including Job Link, are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), which provides standards for quality service delivery and continuous improvement. In 2002, the report from the CARF survey indicated that LEAP is in substantial conformance to CARF standards and demonstrates exemplary conformance with regard to the Job Link Program, advocacy, consumer input, and leadership. The 2005 report states “many persons with challenging barriers to employment have found jobs that match their particular preferences and strengths and that were in proximity to their residence. A wide range of employment vocations have been made to persons served. The Job Link service provides an excellent vehicle to help high school students transition to work. Services are initiated in the freshman year and follow persons through employment. Excellent relations have been developed with local schools, which have greatly enhanced efforts to help persons served.”

LEAP’s outcome management system is designed according to the United Way Services format. Data related to progress on program goals is collected from intake records, attendance records, Individual Plan progress reports, monthly progress reports, employment records, record reviews, correspondence and communications, self report, and observation documented in case notes. Satisfaction surveys of participants, their family members, employers, and other stakeholders are conducted on a regular basis to gain input for continuous improvement. Pertinent demographic and statistical data is tracked electronically, and all other documents and reports are maintained in the students’ case files. Such data for each youth served (under the Workforce Investment Act) is also maintained in the State’s workforce database system.

Staff Development: All LEAP staff members are required to participate in education and training as appropriate for their positions. As a contract agency with the County Board of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities, our staff participate in trainings that the board provides including CPR and First Aid, disability-related education and procedures for reporting Major Unusual Incidents (neglect, abuse, other incidents of harm, etc.). The program supports and encourages continuing education, and also began utilizing the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth’s Knowledge, Skills, & Abilities (KSAs) of Youth Service Practitioners as a resource for staff development.

Collaboration: As a collaborative effort, all the schools are extremely supportive of the program’s services and contribute in-kind support by providing classroom space and access to school resources, (including copiers, phones, computers and internet access, library services, and audio/visual equipment) access to students’ records, and by assisting in modifying the students’ class schedules to include Job Link services. Job Link program coordinators participate in IEP and other meetings as part of the transition team. Job Link partners with employers from the community who volunteer to participate on Job Link Career Panels and provide job shadowing opportunities and work experiences for the youth. In addition, the program works closely with other programs under the umbrella of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) which are intimately connected to the pulse of the community. LMM operates the Young African American Reclamation Project, Youth Re-Entry, Support to At-Risk Teens and the Westhaven Youth Shelter, to name a few.


Data: Outcomes for Graduates (1994-2004)

  • Rate of placement of graduates into employment or training: 84%
  • Average annual employment retention rate: 82%
  • Rate of program completion (and completion of school year): 95%



Involvement with the National Youth Employment Coalition:

  • Job Link was recognized with a Promising and Effective Practices Network (PEPNet) Award for effective youth development and employment services in Washington, D.C. in December 2001. Since 1996, more than 200 applicants have undergone this rigorous review process with only 69 in North America having been selected for PEPNet recognition.
  • PEPNet Institute: Annual youth employment and development conference in Washington, D.C. Job Link staff and youth have presented at this conference.
  • New Leaders Academy: In 2002, the Job Link Program Director participated in a year-long training for youth service professionals which included work on a topical study group regarding youth leadership development.
  • In June 2003, the Job Link Program Director was one of 20 youth service professionals selected from across the U.S. to participate in a Youth Policy Forum and Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill.

To date five Job Link students have applied for and been accepted to participate in the Governor’s Council Youth Leadership Forum in Columbus, six have participated in the Ohio Leadership Summit, and one student participated in the National Youth Leadership Network in Washington, D.C.

Organization Name: Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential (LEAP)
Organization Director: Sandra Carlson
Program Name: Job Link
Street Address: 1468 W. 25th St.
City: Cleveland
State: OH

Contact Person: Sandra Carlson
Contact Title: Program Director
Contact E-mail: