Arkansas PROMISE Begins Enrolling Teens with Disabilities for Paid Work Experiences

Arkansas PROMISE Begins Enrolling Teens with Disabilities for Paid Work Experiences
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Arkansas PROMISE project has begun enrolling teens with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income to take part in a federally funded program that will provide training and paid work experiences, the first such work experience for many of the teens.

Last September, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a $32 million, five-year grant to the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Education to fund the project, which is aimed at improving the career and education outcomes of low-income Arkansas teenagers with disabilities.

The award is believed to be the largest research grant ever received by the University of Arkansas. Brent Thomas Williams, associate professor of rehabilitation education and research, is the principal investigator of the grant and oversees the project. Philip Adams serves as project director, and Alejandro Ortiz is recruitment coordinator. The Social Security Administration recently provided PROMISE officials the data needed to begin reaching out to teens who qualify for the program.

“We mailed our first round of recruitment materials to eligible teens and their families in August,” Ortiz said. “We are targeting teens who are 16 years old first because they will soon age out of eligibility for the program. Recruiters have also begun to canvass neighborhoods in 25 counties across the state. Our goal is to recruit 100 teens a month, but we know the process will be slow at first until word begins to spread.”

The PROMISE grant will provide training and paid work experiences for 1,000 low-income Arkansas teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income. Case managers will also work with youth and their families to coordinate services provided by various state agencies. The teens’ experiences will be compared to those of a second group of 1,000 similar teens who will not receive the additional services. Based on the results of the program, four federal agencies may use the PROMISE program as a model for future programs.

The program expects to work with teens in 25 Arkansas counties, Ortiz said. More information about the program is available by calling 1-855-649-0022, toll-free. Regional directors are working in each of four quadrants of the state to oversee recruitment and training and to help build partnerships with employers.

Mathematica Policy Research of Princeton, N.J., will conduct a longitudinal evaluation of the project, beginning with creation of a random-assignment system to place participants in either the treatment or usual-services groups. The plan is to begin providing the additional services this fall and winter and begin the paid work experiences for participants next summer.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in a wide spectrum of disciplines. 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. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and offers more than 200 academic programs. The university maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio of 19:1 that promotes personal attention and mentoring opportunities. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas 63 among the 623 American public research universities, and the university’s goal is be top 50 by the celebration of its 150th anniversary in 2021.


Brent Thomas Williams, principal investigator, Arkansas PROMISE
College of Education and Health Professions

Alejandro Ortiz, recruitment coordinator, Arkansas PROMISE
College of Education and Health Professions

Heidi Wells, content writer and strategist
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