ZG Assists Those With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities on Their Journey
Writer / Melissa Stalb
This holiday season, families with loved ones at ZG are reflecting on their journey from fear and uncertainty to accomplishment and success.
Brittany Rainey received a certificate for completing 10 years of employment. It’s a success story her mom, Jane, wasn’t sure she would see.
“In the early years, the words can’t, won’t, never and not were imparted to me with overwhelming frequency,” Jane says. “It was so obvious, without a belief in her possibilities, she would go nowhere.”
Like most families, all the Raineys wanted for Brittany was a life full of safety, happiness, security and productivity. Brittany needed to find connection with people like herself, with similar interests and needs.
The term “special needs” encompasses a variety of abilities and disabilities, and often requires diverse employment opportunities. Though Brittany can manifest appropriate behavior in some situations, she can also experience outbursts when things don’t go as expected.
“For some, working a job within the mainstream community is a workable plan,” Jane says. “For others, like my daughter, this isn’t an appropriate solution. When I visit [her place of employment] I am nothing less than thrilled to see my daughter productive, competent and happy.”
Brittany got there through her hard work and the services offered by ZG.
Families like the Raineys have faced concern and insecurity for their loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities for decades.
In 1952 a group was formed under the Council for People With Disabilities, which partnered with Seven Counties Services, and by the mid-1980s they had established vocational programming.
Over the years it’s grown to be so much more.
“ZG has undergone a series of name changes over the years,” says Melissa Marvel, chief executive officer of ZG. “Some might remember us as CGM, Louisville Diversified Services and Zoom Group. Now we’ve rebranded as ZG, a name that signifies dynamism and purpose.”
Why the change?
With the recent rise in the familiarity of the term “zoom,” the organization’s leaders decided to transform its identity while preserving the person-centered approach. It helps to avoid confusion and allows them to focus on what they do best – create opportunities.
“We provide comprehensive support for individuals from age 14 and up with the goal of giving them an upward, positive pathway to succeed to their fullest extent,” Marvel says.
ZG offers pre-employment services to equip young people with disabilities with the skills needed for employment. When they’re ready to enter the workforce, pre-vocational services are available.
Through partnerships with local businesses, job coaches work hand in hand with individuals like Brittany, helping them to create impressive resumes, navigate interviews and ensure a harmonious work environment.
For those businesses that question if they have an appropriate position available, skilled professionals from ZG dive deep into organizations, streamline tasks and show how people with disabilities can be invaluable contributors.
It’s a win-win for all involved.
Right now, adults with disabilities are working in local restaurants, grocery stores, UPS locations and local hospitals, to name a few.
“The passion and pride individuals feel by earning a paycheck is incredible to watch, and these individuals are the most dedicated staff you’ll ever have,” Marvel says. “They have a positive attitude and willingness to do their best at all times. They create a culture in the workforce that so many employers enjoy. They are a bright light in everyone’s day.”
They are also having a substantial impact on the community.
During the pandemic, Marvel says the important work team members from ZG were doing in the community became apparent.
“Over 100 individuals were deemed essential workers, despite being at higher risk of COVID,” Marvel says. “When the vaccine emerged, they were the ones assembling boxes and handling dry ice – another role recognized as essential by the U.S. government.”
Employment services is just one piece of the puzzle. Their flagship program, StudioWorkZ, empowers self-employment through art in various mediums. The Art Gallery is open to the public and showcases the remarkable talent of artists.
“It’s a platform where creativity knows no bounds,” Marvel says. “These artists can shine while earning income through commissions.”
Other programs include RideWorkZ, removing the barriers of transportation and allowing individuals to get to and from their jobs.
LifeWorkZ focuses on life skills and community integration. Groups experience community events, trips, volunteer opportunities, cooking classes and training in self-advocacy.
SupportWorkZ includes behavioral support, and assists in the workforce and life-skills programming if an individual needs additional training on appropriate social behavior.
They also have a program that pulls the community together. DiscoverU Kentucky is a collaborative program with the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities, empowering individuals aged 14 and up, family members, business partners and others to join together to create advocacy and awareness.
Social events like the annual ZG Christmas Party and GlitZ Dance are another important aspect to ZG’s mission.
“The anticipation and excitement these events bring are unmatched,” Marvel says. “It’s a testament to the importance of social engagement and the sense of belonging.”
Aside from offering services to individuals, at the core of their mission, ZG commits to spreading awareness, breaking down barriers and connecting families to essential resources.
“Important information has been siloed for so long and I feel it’s really necessary to connect the dots, share with the community how to access these resources we have, and spread awareness,” Marvel says.
One of the ways they are connecting with the community is through StudioZ, a podcast developed by ZG, sharing stories and information on topics many families wish they had known about or are researching right now.
Marvel knows firsthand the transformative power of connection. She’s on a mission to ensure that when a family receives a diagnosis or an educational plan, they’re met with substantial resources and unwavering support.
For example, when a family is sitting in a doctor’s office, learning the diagnosis of a loved one for the first time, it’s Marvel’s desire that the information will be followed up with substantial resources not just for their childhood, but also their entire future.
It’s not uncommon to see the fear and uncertainty that families had back in the 1980s echoed in 2023, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Any family with a child that has a disability, a 504 or [Individualized Education Plan] in the school system, we want them to reach out to us early on so we can start working with them,” Marvel says. “We can make a plan and goals, removing that fear and concern so many families have. We’re an advocate for your loved one and we’ll be here with their best interest at heart.”
The Raineys know this firsthand.
“The far-reaching benefits of ZG cannot be overstated,” Jane says.
Marvel hopes that others join Brittany and ZG to see their best potential come to fruition. “In the spirit of the holiday season, ZG is a symbol of connectivity, empowerment and the joy of inclusion,” Marvel says. “It represents real people, real lives and a real purpose.”
ZG is for everyone, regardless of zip code. They have two Louisville campuses, one at 1904 Embassy Square Boulevard, and the other at 4545 Taylorsville Road. For more information, visit thezg.us.
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The transformation of the team members is amazing. The individualized programs seem to be just what they need. Keep up the wonderful job you’re doing.