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Service Provider Success Story:  Education for Life

Education for Life (EFL) offers an employment and training program for HIV-positive people throughout Minnesota — in both urban and rural communities — that helps them improve the quality of their lives. People considering reentry into the workforce can get help to:

  • Explore their career options
  • Understand their legal rights
  • Make informed decisions about disclosure
  • Address medication adherence issues
  • Be informed of insurance options
  • Update job skills while training in a safe, supportive environment

A Comprehensive Approach to Employment Services

In designing the EFL program, founders took into account that people living with HIV/AIDS need more than just information about the health care options for a successful transition to work. They often deal with many issues, including depression, chemical dependency and homelessness. Furthermore, many have additional obstacles to gaining employment, such as criminal records, abusive family situations and lack of education. The people who come through EFL intake process need an environment where they can feel safe from discrimination and judgment.

Demonstrating Potential

EFL launched in October 2007 as a demonstration project of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), which recognized the need for a program for HIV-positive clients capable of re-entering the workforce. To realize this vision, DHS contracted with two nonprofit agencies serving people with disabilities, Pride for People in Living (PPL) and Work Incentives Connection (WIC), both organizations are in the Twin Cities metro area.  

Today, a full-scale program supports clients in their efforts to re-enter the workforce. EFL is a five-week, classroom-based curriculum that helps people living with HIV/AIDS assess their ability to return to school or work or volunteer as a way to build skills. It includes:

  • Classroom training and individual coaching on career and educational opportunities
  • Support for job search, résumé writing and online application procedures
  • Tailored job placement services
  • Instruction to update technology skills and adult basic education
  • Counseling on how a transition to work might affect health and disability benefits
  • Coaching in laws that protect people with disabilities in the workplace

Each applicant also receives a psychosocial assessment during intake in order to illuminate unresolved or undiagnosed mental health or substance use issues. Based on these assessments, participants receive individual support and counseling as needed.

Six classes per year are offered at EFL's training center. To ensure individual attention, class size never exceeds 10 students. Adult learning theory governs content delivery.

Expanding Service Delivery through Rural Outreach

Employment programs for people with HIV living in rural areas are rare. To help fill this gap, EFL launched two successful pilot EFL classes in rural Minnesota, one in Duluth (April 2010) and one in Alexandria (April 2011).

A unique feature of this rural program is that it provides transportation and lodging. Planners for the Rural MN EFL, as the program is known, believed it was important to get away from potential distractions to truly focus on work readiness. Key program components are computer skills, interviewing, maintaining confidentiality, managing disclosure, goal-setting and other soft skills.

The Rural MN EFL class is a shorter, concentrated version of the EFL five-week course, but includes the same elements that the urban program offers. Classes are one week, Monday through Friday. The focus is on returning to work with an emphasis on technology; reflecting this, all students all receive a netbook.

For some participants in the Rural MN EFL class, the experience offers a chance to be around other HIV-positive people for the first time in their lives. "I finally felt comfortable in my own skin. I really connected with the other class members on a deep level," remarks one participant.

Partnership Makes it Possible

Project for Pride in Living, Inc. (PPL)

PPL Employment and Training Center is a nonprofit organization that helps low-income individuals and families develop the tools they need to achieve self-sufficiency through housing assistance, employment training, support services and education.

PPL is EFL's lead agency and primary service provider. As such, PPL staff members coordinate the program; create the curriculum; schedule and teach all classes; and provide resources, referrals, mentoring and support to students. PPL's program administrator is a licensed mental health professional who provides a full psychosocial intake for each client and individual counseling services as needed.

Staff members also provide follow-up services, including professional development workshops, one-on-one job coaching, and referrals to services offered within PPL and outside the agency. They continue working intensely with participants for 12 months following graduation.

DHS administers the grant funding for the PPL program, recruits and markets, and provides an on-site Health Care Access Specialist to help clients navigate the complicated healthcare process, both before and after employment.

Work Incentives Connection (WIC)

WIC is the Minnesota agency funded mainly through SSA/WIPA (Social Security Administration/Work Incentives Planning and Assistance) grants. WIC provides answers about the impact of work on benefits so that people with disabilities, including people living with HIV/AIDS, can make informed choices and seize opportunities. WIC provides on-site, unbiased benefits reviews and assessments for all EFL clients to help them evaluate a possible transition to work. It also offers follow-up reviews for clients who gain employment, including exact financial data on benefits in light of new earnings.

Additional partners include African American Family Services (AAFS), Rural AIDS Action Network (RAAN) and Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP). Dozens of other agencies provide specialty services.

Participant Outcomes

A typical EFL participant has been away from the workplace for five to seven years. During this time, most have been isolated, some from their families and many from their cultural community. More than 66 percent have been women; nearly 60 percent have been African or African American. The majority have experienced mental health disorders and/or chemical dependencies.

Following program completion, more than 90 percent of participants reported improved understanding of a wide range of issues regarding returning to the workplace (workplace expectations, professionalism, communication styles and online job applications), benefits, stress management, and mental and chemical health. Furthermore, more than 75 percent reported feeling somewhat or a lot better after participation in EFL than they felt before.

Of 103 clients who graduated from an EFL class in January 2011: 21 percent are working; 28 percent are volunteering; 26 percent are furthering their education; and 75 percent are actively working or pursuing other goals towards improving the quality of their lives.