SPARK to Host Workshop to Discuss Hiring Teens & Young Adults with Special Needs

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MTT News's picture
Michelle Phillips

MIDDLETON–SPARK, a parent run group for those whose children have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or a 504 Plan (for children with disabilities) in the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District, will be hosting a community conversation called Finding Workforce Solutions on Feb. 6.

The event is designed to offer an opportunity for businesses in the area to discuss, support and learn about hiring students and young adults with special needs.

Liza Hellenbrand, who founded of the group with Kristin Voss in 2016, said Employment First (EF) was one of two grants that SPARK recently received through the Wisconsin Board for People with Disabilities. It will fund the Finding Workforce Solutions event.

“They offer direct training and grant programs, and connect people in the community,” Hellenbrand said. 

EF ambassadors will be on hand to speak about what is it like for people with disabilities to work. 

“I don’t think people realize what working means to people with disabilities,” Hellenbrand stated, and explained that it is very empowering to have responsibility, independence and purpose.

“Often they are dependent on others for everything.”

The event will have people gather in small groups to discuss employment, and community leaders and employers are encouraged to attend. The groups will be given questions to talk about then come back together for a group discussion.

“There are a lot of myths out there. We want to get a conversation going in the community,” Hellenbrand explained, and included there can even be financial benefits for businesses that hire those with disabilities.

SPARK, which aims to work with parents and the school district, received a second grant that will be used to provide childcare during their monthly meetings, and to form a teen group.

Hellenbrand said, “We want to have more programs for teens. There are not a lot of opportunities for teens with special needs to get together.”

She said that often parents feel isolated and overwhelmed, and SPARK gives them a place to come and hear speakers, tell their personal stories and find support in each other. 

“A lot of the parents do feel lost and isolated and there are feelings of guilt,” Hellenbrand said. “Sometimes it’s hard for to parents to see the value (of SPARK) right out of the gate. It’s one more thing they have to do, and many are already burnt out.”

She said the group tries to advocate for parents, build relationships and take away the “us vs. them,” feeling that some parents with special needs have toward schools. “We really wanted to break that stigma and improve that relationship,” Hellenbrand said.

Finding Workforce Solutions with begin at 7 p.m. on Fed. 6, at Kromrey Middle School, Room 510, and SPARK asks that you RSVP by Feb 3. RSVP by email at, on Facebook or by calling Voss at 608-843-8299.

For more information on this Finding Workforce Solutions or to learn more about SPARK, visit

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