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Testing the Waters

Two PWAs on the Path to Rebuilding Their Careers

June 2000

The first "client interns" at AIDS Project Los Angeles collectively have been out of the workplace for 21 years.

Both had serious qualms about working again. They worried about their health, their stamina, and of course, their disability benefits.

Now their three-month paid internship with the agency's reception staff draws to a close at the end of June. Both say they made the right choice at the right time -- with no regrets. They challenged themselves, did the work, and found they have more energy and self-confidence than they thought.

And APLA will now hire three more clients who want to "test the waters" and see if they can handle going back to work.


Started in Spring

Interns Eric Krigger and Mark Oringer started back to work in April.

Together, they filled one full-time slot in the agency's reception department. The job was broken down into three part-time positions (with one additional client intern not mentioned here) of about three hours a day, five days a week.

The internships were crafted to give the interns extra income and plenty of exposure to the demands of the workplace. At the same time, they were guaranteed very high levels of employee support -- if any of them needed it -- and the pay range was calculated to have as little impact as possible on Social Security disability benefits and health insurance.

According to Jim Williams, who oversees the reception staff as part of his job running Volunteer Resources, the internships have "worked wonderfully" for all concerned.

"It has expanded the agency's hiring options," Williams says, "and both have given us more than they will ever know as far as service is concerned."

Doubts Resolved

As for Krigger and Oringer, they say working at APLA has resolved doubts they had about their ability to return to work. Both appear ready to take on other jobs, possibly even full-time work.

Eric Krigger had been out of the workplace on disability benefits for 10 years, the longest of the two. His previous job experience included general office and administrative work.

Before applying for the internship, he took basic computer classes at Project New Hope, and started going to the gym to build up his stamina.

"The internship was a chance to find out whether you can or can't [return to work]," he says. "Until you just go out there and do it, there's no way to know for sure."

Before venturing back into employment, Krigger said he would "sort of just veg out ... stay up late watching TV, stuff like that."

After working for two months, directing clients and visitors through the agency, learning the in-house computer system, adjusting to the demands of a more structured life, Krigger says it "feels great ... just to get up and have something to do, and a chance to interact with people."

Krigger says he now "seems to have more energy," though he hit a rough patch, healthwise, along the way. He is now actively thinking about taking a full-time position.

Eye on the Dollar Signs

Mark Oringer strategized his return to work to maximize income.

He knew from consultations with APLA's Work Services staff that he had a total of nine "free" trial work months from Social Security, and that during the nine months he could earn as much money as possible.

So, when he started his job at APLA, he also went to work for Census 2000 as an enumerator.

His combined income gives him a nice infusion of extra cash. By working both jobs at the same time, he minimized the number of trial work months he used up.

Oringer says his work at APLA is "going fine, though the first week or two was a little anxious for me." Apart from increased income, he says the job "has been good for my self-esteem and confidence, just to see if I could do it or not."

He also says he has particularly "enjoyed working in an environment at APLA where you can be open about both HIV and sexuality."

As for the challenge of holding down two jobs at once, Oringer says, "I'm feeling it. I'm dead exhausted, but as long as I don't feel sick I'll keep doing it."

Oringer has an educational background in film and television, but worked largely in retail management. He says he cannot go back to his old line of work "because of the stress."

Now that he has proven to himself that he can work, Oringer will start computer classes at a community college and eventually look for full or part-time office work.

New Crop Begins in July

Several clients have already applied for the reception intern positions, which will start at the beginning of July.

All applicants interview with staff from the Work Services Program, where they are briefed on job training and duties. They also receive a thorough rundown on disability benefits, and any consequences working will have on their disability incomes, housing grants, etc.

During the course of their employment, the client interns also meet with Work Services staff to review their progress, and to firm up long-term plans for returning to work or school.

Once applicants have met with Work Services, they move on to interviews with Jim Williams and APLA's Human Resources staff. Once hired, client interns receive employee training to prepare them for their jobs, and meet with Williams weekly for normal employee supervision.

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
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