Creating opportunities for brain-injured patients

Day rehab clients package gift baskets

Brain injury clients at MossRehab's day treatment program are getting a chance to learn new job skills and earn a paycheck by participating in a new program expected eventually to pay its own way. The Philadelphia rehabilitation provider, part of Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, has started Nifty Gifts, a nonprofit gift service that helps survivors of brain injury build competitive job skills. The gift service operates in conjunction with MossRehab's Clubhouse, a community-based day program for brain injury survivors. Nifty Gifts opened its doors in Nov-ember 1997, with seed money from two local foundations.

"The idea is that the business will gradually be able to support itself through sales revenue. When we go beyond breaking even, we can use the excess revenue to support other underfunded post acute programs," says Drew Nagele, PsyD, clinical director of ambulatory programs at MossRehab and director of Nifty Gifts.

Focus on marketable products

The gift baskets, competitively priced with a profit built in, are designed by Bobbi Townsend, the service's business manager, who has more than 25 years of experience in retail gift sales. An advisory committee of community volun-teers with business experience helps select products to be offered for sale. "We try to provide items that are of very high quality and that are not readily available in the local marketplace," Townsend says.

Employees at Nifty Gifts assemble and package gifts, conduct telephone sales, manage inventory, and set up delivery of the gift baskets. The program has five permanent employees. The work force swells to 10 or 12 for holidays and special events. Participants are paid an hourly wage commensurate with what they would receive for similar work at area commercial firms. The program hires people with disabilities and some without to provide a hetero- geneous working environment like that of any other company.

Participants may start as volunteers at Nifty Gifts, gaining the skills they need to become employees. At first, employees are assisted by a job coach who helps them develop strategies to overcome the deficits caused by their brain injuries and be successful in the job. Once those strategies are in place, the job coach fades out of the picture.

After employees work for six months to a year at Nifty Gifts, rehab staff help them find a similar job in the private sector, such as working in shipping and receiving at a local business or in assembly at another gift company.

Employees have come from MossRehab's post-acute brain injury programs. In the future, Nagele anticipates that other local brain injury programs may place their clients at Nifty Gifts. Workers are employees of MossRehab and get a paycheck every other week just as regular staff do. So far, all of them have been hired for part-time work.

"This is partly because the business is just starting up but also in response to the needs of people who go to work after brain injury. Their disability determines their ability to work, and many cannot put in a full day at work," he says.

Nifty Gift employees and participants in the Clubhouse Program handle direct mail advertising to the consumer market. The rehab staff and some members of the volunteer advisory board call on local corporations to make them aware of the gift baskets and the opportunities to hire people who are finishing the program.

Nifty Gifts are sold primarily through mail and telephone orders and delivered by commercial carriers. For Valentine's Day, the center operated four cash-and-carry booths for direct sales of the products, included mugs filled with candy, stuffed teddy bears carrying a heart-shaped lollipop or box of candy, a "Dinner for Two" basket with pasta sauce, pasta, bread sticks, and wine glasses; and a "Sweets for the Sweets" basket filled with candy, cookies, and nuts.

Other popular baskets include "Sunday Brunch," a selection of gourmet pancake mixes and syrups; and "Some Like it Hot," a basket filled with chili mixes, salsa, mustards, and barbecue sauces.

[For more information on the Nifty Gifts program, call (888) 440-1400.]