Setting out to find employment is stressful for most people, but this is even more so if you have intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD).  Having intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD) can make it much more challenging to acquire work-related skills that employers are looking for.  Young adults with IDD don’t usually have the same opportunities to develop job skills that others do.


The objective of Sunshine Nevada's newest project, Sunshine Works Farmers Market program is to expand the concept of inclusion from the classroom to the workplace.  Every person has abilities, skills and talents to enrich the community and people around them. We envision a time when every working-age adult with intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD) has the opportunity to explore career options and seek jobs that fit their skills and interests. But until then, we are keeping it real and helping young adults gain the interpersonal skills they need to fit in and become more productive (and successful) in the workplace and in society.

The development of social skills is fundamental to gainful employment, and for young adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD), this can be one of the most challenging aspects of acquiring and maintaining employment. We believe that integrating a social skills development program in combination with hands-on job training in the Farmers Market environment is key to addressing the gaps of existing job training programs.

The Farmer’s Market setting would allow Program participants to socially engage with patrons without the pressure of failing or falling short of expectations that are more common in typical work environments.  In addition, the community has an opportunity to engage with people with disabilities as they are working and contributing to society. We aspire to be role models in our community and want to encourage other employers to hire more young adults with special needs. Our aim is to lead the way so that others will adopt and adapt to the changing tides of the special needs community as a viable and valuable part of the workforce.


The Sunshine Works Job Preparation Program

The Sunshine Works Program was developed in response to the youth unemployment rate crisis for individuals with disabilities.  The Sunshine Works Program is a paid internship for high school graduates ages 18 – 25 who are transitioning from school to the workforce but who still struggle socially to fit in. Program participants will become contracted workers who will get the necessary training and experience needed to become confident, working members of society.  All program participants will work (2) 6-hour shifts per week, at a pay rate of $9.00 per hour.

Sunshine Works Program will offer supported employment services in a retail setting providing program participants with transferable vocational education and relevant social skills development for improving future opportunities for competitive employment.  Supported employment means all participants have consistent training support while on the job.  One Job Coach is assigned to two program participants per 6-month program.  Job coaches are present with the participants during every shift ensuring the appropriate amount of support, guidance and encouragement is provided.  The participants are independent, but job coaches help them continue to grow offering opportunities for more independent employment in the future.

Many of our participants have never worked and before they set out to approach the idea of full-time employment, we want to help prepare them.  Our participants will learn how to socially interact with customers and develop diverse work skills that will enable them to cooperate with co-workers and supervisors. This will help to increase their independent functioning in public environments and help give them the necessary experience and exposure to employment opportunities in the community. More specifically, they will feel better equipped to manage various social settings while on the job.

The Need

In the Las Vegas area, jobs for young adults with special needs are rare and oftentimes less than meaningful.  Young adults with IDD struggle to enter the workforce, let alone land even minimum-wage jobs.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported unemployment rates for eligible persons with IDD was 9.8% in 2018, more than twice the rate of those with no disability (3.7%).   Nationally, over 80% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed.  If and when young adults with IDD are employed, oftentimes it’s in jobs where they are working exclusively alongside other people with disabilities in “sheltered workshops” doing repetitive tasks for just $2.21 an hour on average.  Some of the disabled employees are even working for free as their wages are discounted for food provided at the work site or adult daycare fees are exacted.  Fortunately, there have been recent efforts at both the federal and state levels to eliminate and ban such practices.  Nevada is a key state in the effort to eliminate workplace inequities for individuals with IDD.


Integrated Employment opportunities for ages 18 – 25 are increasing slowly, but what has also increased is the inability for the young adults to integrate into the work environment due to their lack of social skills.  As a result, there is a significant rise in the number young adults being dismissed from their job due to “lack of proper job skills”, and this perceived “failure” deeply effects the individuals willingness to seek other employment.  Young adults with IDD typically learn the mechanics of a job easily, but little if any training is offered to navigate the job when it comes to social intelligence skills.


Advantages to hiring young adults with IDD:

Young Adults with disabilities usually thrive in very predictable work environments with set schedules. They prefer doing repetitive tasks and are well suited for consistent routines and work hours. They are oftentimes more committed to learning all aspects of job responsibilities and tasks, more reliable (on time), and can become long-time loyal employees. They make ideal employees in many situations and they can also pass drug tests.  Their primary downfall – social integration. 

The Impact of the Sunshine Works Program

The community will engage with people with disabilities as they work and contribute to society. We are determined to be role models in our community and want to encourage other employers to hire these young adults who may possibly be the best employee they have ever encountered. Our aim is to lead the way so that others will adopt and adapt to the change that is inevitable.  Developing hands-on job opportunities that also offer social skill development in an accepting and teaching environment is key to these young adults’ success in the workforce.  Our goal is to produce four (4) work programs annually and transition 32 work ready young adults into a job they desire. 

An educational short film will be developed featuring all facets of the Sunshine Works Job Preparation program with potential employers as its target audience so that they are able to make informed business decisions to hire young adults with IDD. 


Sunshine Works on-the-job training offers support in the following areas:

  • Interpersonal and communication skills,

  • Job readiness/interview training, resume building

  • Customer Service/Customer Care

  • Custodial/Maintenance

  • Retail/Product Familiarity

  • Clerical procedures/Inventory Management

  • Cashier duties/ Managing money transactions, Point-of-Sales, receipts of purchase, daily accounting.


Benefits of Work

  • Earning money gives young adults more financial independence and a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

  • Increases self-esteem and self-confidence.

  • Working expands their social environment.

  • Having a job enhances personal growth and job skills.



  • Evaluate and chart program participant progress

  • Increase employability and marketability

  • Provide an integrated and community-based work experience

  • Provide tangible experience and work skills

  • Provide employment opportunities with employer partners

  • Share measurable outcomes with Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities to increase awareness concerning this critical shift towards viable improvements for creating sustainable and successful employment opportunities for young adults with IDD.


Our experience.

We know the challenges special needs individuals face today. Having served the special needs community for over 20 years, we believe we have an excellent understanding of what young adults with disabilities need to increase their odds of thriving in the workplace and in life.  We also believe that through participation in the Sunshine Works Job Preparation program we can help young adults with IDD gain the interpersonal skills they need to fit in and become more confident and productive in in the workplace and in society.

How to get involved.

We are transforming our culture to one that encourages opportunities and pathways for integration, independence and full community participation.

Workforce ready young adults with disabilities aren’t the only thing growing at Sunshine Works, so are opportunities to get involved!  There are countless ways you can support Sunshine Works and provide meaningful employment to young adults with disabilities.  Please consider how your gift of time, talent, or treasure can help keep the Sunshine growing and flowing.

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