Everyone needs meaning in their life—a mission or goal that gives life a purpose.
Through her job, Mia Shapiro pursues the idea that everyone has something to contribute to the greater good of humankind, and it's her desire to make sure everyone has that opportunity.
Shapiro is the program manager for the nonprofit Full Access High Desert, which serves more than 300 people with developmental or intellectual disabilities in Deschutes, Jefferson, Crook and Lake counties. There are outposts in each county, but Bend has the home office. Shapiro supervises about 15 case managers to help ensure service delivery.
"A lot of the people we work with are people you may see every day and not even be aware that they experience disability," Shapiro says. "My work is people. I'm drawn to people and people stories."
Employment First Central Oregon
Full Access High Desert is part of a partnership called Employment First Central Oregon that serves individuals 18 and older. Full Access was recently awarded an innovation grant to market the idea of Employment First, with multiple agencies involved in the mission to create a match between employers and workers. Shapiro has been with Full Access High Desert since 2004.
"We wanted to figure out a way that there's a job for everyone. Employment should be an option for everyone. It's about matching talents," Shapiro says. From food service to high tech industries, workers can be employed in any kind of profession. A lot of individuals work in "front of the house" jobs, such as being a courtesy clerk, but there are also a lot of jobs working "behind the scenes," she adds.
"Everybody has the same goals, the same dreams, the same things we all want. As humans, we all want to be connected into the community. We're all more alike than we are different. I enjoy seeing people's potential. I like creating a social expectation that everyone who wants to, can work. People who experience disabilities can live a full life. We want people to see that. Once you see that, you can explore the possibilities."
Part of the Employment First Central Oregon partnership is Good2Go, where employment specialist Jean Bury offers a similar take on working with individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. "When people work, they gain feelings of competence, belonging and self-sufficiency. When I job coach, I get to help another find those characteristics in themselves, which is rewarding because I know I am helping someone on the road to independence. Job coaching allows me to find these characteristics in myself, too, because what is more rewarding than knowing your work paves the way for another's success?"
At Full Access High Desert, Shapiro says one of the goals is to shift the public mindset so that for these individuals, having a job "isn't the news; it's just expected."
A constant obstruction, Shapiro says, is the high cost of housing in Bend, which causes a lot of people to move out of the area. While some clients live with families, others live in apartments on their own. Another obstacle in social services, she adds, is a lack of resources.
Shapiro is a native Oregonian from a small town outside of La Grande in eastern Oregon. She was an anthropology/sociology undergrad at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, and later earned a master's degree in social work from Portland State University. Her first job out of college was working with child protective services in Warm Springs, where she says she met and enjoyed the company of a woman with Down Syndrome.
When not working, Shapiro keeps busy with her son, 6, and daughter, 4. The family recently bought a house in Bend. She also likes to hike and kayak.