Prince George’s Program Brings Disabled Residents into Public Service

Prince George’s government agencies provide enriching work experiences for disabled residents interested in civil service. 

A NACo article recently highlighted a human services program in Prince George’s that finds work opportunities in local government for individuals with developmental disabilities. Despite a difficult start, Project HIRE now has renewed purpose and effective leadership in the local Department of Human Services Aging and Disabilities division.

After some years of dwindling enthusiasm, Valerie Berkley took over this division offering apprenticeships in several different county agencies. Berkley reflects on the process:

“I knew for this to work, it can’t just be me being a one-woman show, it has to be collected within the community, and that’s what you see today,” Berkeley said. “If it wasn’t for supportive employment partners, we wouldn’t have the right spots for these candidates that we have every year.”

Finding departments with the flexibility and leadership willing to mentor young people with developmental disabilities is a careful balance. Given the oversight requirements of any on-job learning opportunity, these departments can’t do it on their own. Berkley maintains that support from human resources, given the extensive onboarding that is necessary, is also crucial.

The screening process is unlike most job interviews. Initial stages take on a “meet and greet” feel, aimed at lowering barriers of formality for candidates who may be new to this. Their interests serve as an anchor and starting point as participants learn their way around cooperating agencies — currently the Department of Social Services, the sheriff’s office, and the health department.

The apprenticeship aspect is fundamental — while the job functions may seem similar to an administrative support position, the program emphasizes growth, development, and finding a role that not only capitalizes on a candidate’s skills but offers the opportunity to adapt and take on new responsibilities. Each position is structured to last roughly a year with the potential for extension or even transition into regular employment. Berkley confirms, “We’re together for a period of 9-12 months, but this could turn into your ‘forever.’”

Read more about Project HIRE in Prince George’s.