Disabled Are Helped To Succeed At Self-Employment

By: James Thalman
Deseret News

June 2, 2008

Jason Weeks is a keyboard player who has the world at his fingertips.

From his small apartment near downtown Salt Lake, he makes music, makes friends and business partners of fellow musicians in six countries, and from 8 a.m. to midnight he's bettering the lives of listeners worldwide.

Not bad for a guy who had serious autistic tendencies as a child and survived three suicide attempts as an adult. Now, treatment and therapy help keep his bipolar disorder in check, along with his nightly pursuit on the Internet airwaves.

"My real medicine is music," he said. "I think music has the power to comfort and ennoble people. I just feel so fortunate to be able to share what I love so much."

Utah, the country and the world have the good fortune of having people like Weeks, said Jedd Medefind, deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Medefind was in town last month to recognize the collaborative effort that is helping Weeks, along with more than 50 other disabled Utahns, explore self-employment options.

"Big, real life improvements that come from neighbors serving neighbors don't happen on a federal government scale," Medefind said after presenting the U.S. Department of Labor's Champion of Compassion award to the Utah Work Incentives Self-Employment Project. "But we recognize when local programs are doing an exceptional job."

The UWISE project, which is staffed by Bill Walsh and Shirley Weathers, is "America at its best, and it's a beautiful thing," Medefind said. "These communities within communities within the state have clearly embraced helping these folks become independent. That's part of the heritage of Utah, and you should be proud you're carrying it forward."

The project helps Weeks and entrepreneurs like him bridge the gap between them and traditional small business service providers and financing entities. Weeks in turn is bridging a gap between musicians and the music industry.

A generation ago, Weeks would have simply been a record promoter. Thanks to digital technology, he's a promoter and then some: A musician who can be in touch with a band he wants to promote within seconds. In a matter of hours, if all goes well, he'll have permission to broadcast a song and have it playing on his site, www.cimplexsounds.com (Que 98.2 FM), and being heard all over the world.

"No record company could have dreamed that kind of success," Weeks said. He has bigger dreams himself, including staging a New Age festival at the downtown library grounds one day. It will be called The Purple Blues Festival and will rival or even be bigger than the biggest music festivals, "which have become rather unfriendly to the unsigned artist."

Weeks, who also goes by the artist name Airomee Wind, said he struggled for years to promote his own music without getting anywhere. so now he is doing his best to provide what he didn't have. This past Sunday evening he interviewed live a member of the British band Zoo, which has a CD release party this week in England.

"People are always going to need someone to promote their music, and it's my passion to provide that bridge," he said.

His venture is hardly self-serving only one of his songs is on the station's playlist.

It's passion as much as music that is making the station work. It's obvious to anyone who asks him about the station. It's what carried him through learning the technical ropes such as static IP addresses, dealing with firewall issues and the sometimes maddening limitations involved with getting everything running the right way down the digital pipeline.

Passion is also what Weeks' mentors in the UWISE project say make him the ideal person for this self-employment.

"Jason got it up and running and we did a benefits analysis so he understands how income from the work affects his disability benefits," Walsh said. "He's working on a business plan, will present that to vocational rehab and probably ask for financial support to enhance his business."

Walsh said the project has assisted 57 people under a grant that runs out at the end of the year. The hope is to turn the self-employment options into a fee-for-service program to the disabled.

People with disabilities can have difficulties meeting the demands of wage-based employment, Weathers said during the award presentation. Many have health problems or a number of mitigating "square-peg-in-round-holes" factors that make self-employment a better option.

"Jason is fired up about his station and he's working hard at getting it up and running, and we're just trying to do what we can to make that happen," she said.

Last month, when Weeks went to the library to see if he could hear his station online, "I got so excited that it was working, they asked me to leave."

The New Age and Smooth Jazz music that excites him won't appeal to everyone, he said, noting he is an unabashed fan of John Tesh and Yanni. "Comedians who make jokes about them can't take away from the fact that they are marvelous musicians whose work comforts and raises the spirits of millions of people everywhere."

There's just something about music, music of all kinds.

"I can't put my finger on it, but it's powerful and can influence humankind like nothing else," he said. "It has actually kept me alive and stopped pain so severe you can't imagine. And I've found that the more positive the music people listen to, the more balanced their lives."