The National Service to Employment Project (NextSTEP) develops tools and materials, conducts research, provides technical assistance, and creates demonstration projects focusing on people with disabilities in volunteer and community-service roles. Funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), NextSTEP strives to identify effective practices and promote community service as a step towards improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities. CNCS provides opportunities for Americans of all ages and backgrounds to engage in structured service programs that focus on specific community needs through its AmeriCorps programs (including AmeriCorps VISTA, AmeriCorps State and National and AmeriCorps NCCC [National Civilian Community Corps]) and its Senior Corps program.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was intended to ensure equality and opportunity within the workplace. However, many people with disabilities have limited access to traditional forms of skill-building that lead to employment. Participating in national service or other volunteer programs provides an opportunity for individuals to learn new skills or to relearn old skills in a new way. Volunteering can increase an individual’s life options, including improving his or her employment outcomes. Completing a structured term of service allows people with disabilities to develop their vocational and interpersonal skills while experiencing the satisfaction of giving back to their communities.

NextSTEP’s focus is on understanding how participation in service can lead to meaningful employment and post-secondary options through the following activities:

  • Identifying promising practices in service that can lead to employment and post-secondary activities. Information is being collected through extensive review of existing literature and through interviews with service commissions, program staff, and alumni with disabilities.
  • Working with state intellectual/developmental disability agencies and vocational rehabilitation agencies to support participation in service as part of vocational development for their customers. This includes identifying any policy or practice barriers that might exist and disseminating state models of effective practice for replication.
  • Defining key elements that contribute to service experiences that improve employment outcomes for youth with disabilities transitioning from high school.
  • Informing employers about the value that the service experience can bring to their companies and the contribution that candidates who have service experience can make. Information will be gathered about how potential employees can capitalize on their service experience during the hiring process.

Based on these activities, NextSTEP integrates information about how service contributes to employment and post-secondary options into existing training content for service volunteers. Thus these concepts become part of the overall service experience rather than a stand-alone activity. NextSTEP seeks to inform schools, community providers, and people with disabilities and their families about the value of national service as a step toward meaningful employment.

NextSTEP is a collaboration of the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston, the State Employment Leadership Network of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services and the ICI, and the U.S. Business Leadership Network.