FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Dorothy Jackson of Little Rock choked back tears when she described how Arkansas PROMISE changed her grandson’s life. She was one of many who grappled with emotion Monday as they celebrated the end of the part of the University of Arkansas project that provided summer work experiences for 1,000 Arkansas youth with disabilities.
PROMISE is an acronym for Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income. The celebratory luncheon took place shortly after PROMISE officials received a process analysis report last week that showed 92 percent of the youth with disabilities who enrolled in the project received services or participated in the PROMISE components. Evidence suggests there was a marked difference between the service experiences of youth in PROMISE and a second group of 1,000 youth with disabilities who received the usual services offered in the state.
The research evaluation will continue for another five years as the youth are followed and data are collected and analyzed to determine the effect of the project. It was designed to improve the education and employment outcomes of youth with disabilities as well as to reduce reliance on public benefits.
The project began in 2013 with the announcement of a $35.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Education.
Jackson told the audience of PROMISE staff members and partners from across the state who played important roles in the project that “PROMISE rocks.”
“Our hearts swelled with joy that he was getting to experience this life lesson,” she said of her grandson, who lives with a developmental delay. “Arkansas PROMISE transformed a boy who didn’t know his way to a young man who has become independent, responsible, making new friends and willing to find his way.”
Mathematica Policy Research evaluated whether Arkansas PROMISE was implemented in ways consistent with the federal government requirements. Mathematica, a national policy research and evaluation firm hired by the Social Security Administration to conduct a nine-year evaluation of the demonstration project, released a report that covered data collected through September 2017. Mathematica will release an interim impact report later this year and a final impact report in the spring of 2022.
Some of the key findings:
By August 2017, 90 percent of participating youth had a PROMISE plan that identified career and education goals as well as the steps needed to achieve them.
By August 2017, 87 percent of parents and guardians of participating youth had developed their own PROMISE plans.
More than two-thirds of youth had completed at least one summer work experience between 2015 and 2017.
Almost one-quarter of youth had completed two or more summer work experiences.
The analysis also found that no comprehensive case management services similar to those provided by PROMISE were available to youth with disabilities in the state. Forging partnerships with other U of A entities and state agencies was vital to the success of the program, which served youth in 25 of the state’s 75 counties.
Five partner organizations provided program services and received funding: Arkansas Department of Workforce Services; Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; Sources for Community Independent Living Services; U of A Center for the Utilization of Rehabilitation Resources for Education, Networking, Training and Service; and U of A Partners for Inclusive Communities.
At the luncheon Monday, Philip Adams, program director, and Hershell West, co-director, introduced guests, and Corinne Weidenthal, education program specialist with the U.S. Department of Education, skyped in to thank the PROMISE staff and partners for their work. Tionna Jenkins, senior advisor with the Clinton Foundation, and Alan McClain, commissioner of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, talked about the roles their organizations played.
PROMISE provided two paid summer work experiences of about 200 hours each as well as additional training and intensive support services for a group of 1,000 teens who receive Supplemental Security Income.
Dorothy Jackson talked about both her grandson’s experience working a summer job as well as attending summer camp, a component of PROMISE that offered information to youth participants about post-secondary education and careers as well as a chance to spend a week living on a college campus, having fun and making friends.
The project also offered monthly training sessions to youth participants and their families that included financial information, healthy living lessons, job interviewing skills, and various other independent-living skills. Families also could receive benefits counseling to understand how earning money through work would affect their teen’s benefits.
PROMISE staff shared success stories, and Brent Thomas Williams, principal investigator of the project and associate professor of counselor education, described next steps.
More highlights offered by PROMISE staff:
A total of 749 youth participants worked more than 155,000 hours in their summer jobs. Of those, 253 worked one summer, 433 worked two summers, 59 worked three summers and four worked four summers. Several were hired on by their employers after the PROMISE-supported work experience ended.
A total of 366 youth attended one of three summer camps. Weidenthal called summer camp a hallmark of Arkansas going above and beyond what other PROMISE projects have done, referring to the demonstration projects funded through six entities across 11 states.
A total of 330 youth participants graduated from high school and another 508 are on track to finish high school. A total of 114 are enrolled in post-secondary education programs. Weidenthal said PROMISE increased connections between schools and support services.
Several speakers said PROMISE also has brought about changes in systems that serve people with disabilities and has affected the thinking of some employers.
“More than 300 employers who would never have hired someone with a disability now have hired someone with a disability,” Williams said. “Fundamentally, this is a research project to see if an upfront investment would save money in the long run, and I think the answer is a resounding yes.
“After 34 years of working in the field of rehabilitation, I can tell you, if you think this is a special, one-of-a-kind thing, you are right,” Williams continued. “We have provided assistance and care and now it’s time to take the scaffolding down. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this, and I hope you walk away feeling proud.”
About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.