Longtime Tucson Employment Agency Expands Services to Special Populations | Solutions
A decades-old Tucson employment agency has expanded its services with a pair of programs, one to help people returning from prison and the other for women seeking employment in the field of behavioral health.
DKA – Dorothy Kret and Associates – was established in 1984 with the aim of providing employment assistance to vulnerable populations, through services including assessments, training, counselling, development and job placement.
When Tucsonan Dorothy “Dot” Kret was attending college in the early 1980s, she was best friends with a man who used a wheelchair. Her experience as a friend and advocate has inspired Kret to help empower people with disabilities, said Darius Wentz, outreach coordinator for DKA’s justice program.
“She felt like he was invisible to the community. Every time they went somewhere, it was like he was being ignored,” Wentz said. “People weren’t looking him in the eye and they were just talking to him. It bothered her a bit.”
Kret was inspired to start her business, founding DKA with the goal of empowering people with disabilities to succeed in life, especially in the areas of employment. Over the years, DKA has expanded its services to help people with mental or behavioral health issues in employment.
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In 2021, the agency applied for COVID-19 relief funds from the state’s regional contracted behavioral health authority, Arizona Complete Health, in hopes of expanding its operations to two additional populations: people released from prison and women with lived experience of addiction recovery who are seeking careers in behavioral health.
Their funding was approved in November and the new initiatives, Justice Program and Working With Women, launched on March 1.
Intensive case management
Outreach coordinators and support staff from the two new programs quickly got to work finding clients and informing community members about the initiatives and what they offer in terms of expanded support.
“We got off to a flying start,” said Wentz, who works with people before and after release through the justice program. “Whatever barrier or obstacle our client partner faces, we work one-on-one with them to overcome it.”
Wentz described the process as “intensive case management” that goes beyond employment. For Wentz’s client partners coming out of jail, housing is a big deal and he works hard to provide plenty of options.
“It could be a substance abuse issue or various things. Whatever the need, we work with that person to overcome it,” Wentz said.
Wentz had his own run-in with the justice system years ago, narrowly avoiding jail time for a drug charge in Missouri.
“I kind of understand how these families feel,” said Wentz, who has spent years working with groups that work with prisons.
“I love my job and look forward to getting here every morning,” he said.
One of Wentz’s first ideas for DKA’s justice program is a men’s clothing closet filled with professional attire for job interviews or work.
“There are plenty in Tucson for women, but none for men,” Wentz said.
Now, Dress for Success: Men’s Wardrobe is available to Justice Program Partner customers and other men in the community, with free clothing for those in need.
“We’ve only been working on it for a few months, so it’s not huge,” Wentz said of the closet. “But if I don’t have it, I’ll find it. If someone has a job interview tomorrow, I’ll find a way to get it.”
Before starting with DKA in the spring, Wentz worked as a pastor, police chaplain and spent the better part of 25 years in broadcast journalism.
As part of his position at the DKA, Wentz travels to prisons across the state, speaking to inmates and corrections officers about the justice agenda and working with people while they are still incarcerated in the prison. possible.
“That way, by the time they’re paroled, we’re already leaving,” Wentz said. “We partner with people to make their lives better. It comes right back to what DKA is trying to do.”
Similar to Kret’s friend who used a wheelchair, people entering and leaving prison can often seem invisible, Wentz said.
“We want them to be visible and get what they need,” he said. “I’m here to champion their cause, whatever it is. It’s uniquely and individually tailored to that person. Each person has different needs and goals. The cookie-cutter approach just doesn’t work. not.”
Wentz has already enrolled nearly 60 client partners in the first months of the Justice program.
“Coming here, I had goals. I achieved the immediate goals, but the long-term goals of having a greater impact on people’s lives, to see them grow emotionally and financially through life and develop that stability, it’s going to take time,” he said. “We are invested in this.”
Certification and support
The grant DKA received for its substance abuse-focused Working With Women program led to the creation of the program for women interested in the behavioral health field. The main goal is to get clients certified and employed as a recovery or peer support specialist, said outreach coordinator Raeleen Francisco.
The program is for women with a personal history of substance use and recovery, but the program is also open to women with lived experience in another capacity.
“Perhaps you have a mother, father, brother, sister, or loved one that you went through this with. You just have to have that lived experience,” Francisco said. “The population they’ll be working with are people who have their own addictions and want the same help, so it’s important to recognize when you can be that peer and really understand what that person needs.”
The program provides support to clients by helping them find and successfully complete local specialized recovery support training programs and, if needed, basic or continuing education.
Additional associated services, whether medical or behavioral, are free to clients, with DKA billing Arizona’s health care cost containment system, the state’s Medicaid system.
The growth of Working With Women is a little slower than that of the Justice program so far. Francisco said she currently has nine clients, but six more have completed the program. Four have already found employment in peer support.
There has also been some overlap with the justice agenda, with many people coming out of prison interested in becoming a peer in recovery, Francisco said.
Participant training is covered by insurance and the program will work with clients who wish to go beyond basic certification.
“We can help them get an education if they want to get a certificate or a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree,” Francisco said. “We can follow them through the stages that way and be there and support them.
Francisco also connects clients with resources based on their needs, whether it’s housing, childcare or other types of assistance. Workwear is the most requested item, with Francisco referring customers to Eagles Wings of Grace or My Sister’s Closet, depending on their location.
“Every situation that comes our way, we will deal with it as best we can,” she said. “A lot of people when they come in, they don’t even know where to start. But once they’re in our program, we’re there for them.”
Francisco has seen the justice system inside and out, as she previously worked as a corrections officer in a prison and later as a case manager with juveniles in custody, probation and diversion on a reserve.
“It’s great that DKA has started this program,” for “those who need that extra support, courage, or strength to move on,” Francisco said.
Contact star reporter Caitlin Schmidt at 573-4191 or [email protected] On Twitter: @caitlincschmidt