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General Manager of Mrs E's

 

As a Job Coach, or Employment Consultant, Mary finds employment for persons with developmental disabilities -- some with severe physical and mental limitations -- and then trains the newly-hired employees until they master the job.

 


General Manager of Mrs E's

 

Tony Schwager, who teaches shop at Baldwin High School, said the long term goal of Anthony’s Beehive is financial independence for his son.


General Manager of Mrs E's

Ray and Janet Steffy are big believers in working with the community that surrounds their son to find what he can do and what he wants to do.


General Manager of Mrs E's

“Circle of Friends” has been key to Justin White’s tremendous growth over the last couple of years.

 


General Manager of Mrs E's

 

Now 21, David works full-time as a medication aide in a senior center, has his own apartment, car, and computer, and plans to gain additional education to continue a career in health care.


 

 

 

 

Employment1st.org is funded by the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities (KCDD). Design by Lawson Phillips Associates. Stories by Tim Hoyt. Photography by Lawson Phillips. Publication design by Arthur McCash and Lawson Phillips.

Colin at Work“I’m right in there with everybody else” could be said to be Colin Olenick’s life theme. “With a little bit of what I’d call ‘unorthodox help,’ I’ve been able to achieve much.”

Whether it’s working a job for seven years and counting, going to college to advance his career, or, earlier in his life, attending the public schools of his choice, Mr. Olenick has been right in there with everyone else. Even in high school at Shawnee Mission South, he didn’t let cerebral palsy or autism hold him back.

On the high school swim team, he jokes, “I was the guy with the life preserver.”

Such joke lines are not unusual for Mr. Olenick, 25. At the job at Cinemark Theater in Overland Park, where he is a ticket-taker but tells friends he works “in show business,“ one of Colin’s bosses calls him “our resident comedian.” .

Although Mr. Olenick jokes about his participation on the swim team, the swim team participation really wasn’t a joke. He is in fact a good swimmer, despite the cerebral palsy which forces him to use a wheelchair to get around.

“Basically, the life preserver was just to save them liability,” Mr. Olenick said. “I was on the swim team from my sophomore to senior year. I competed against able-bodied guys in free style. I had a wonderful coach.”

Colin’s mother, Jo Lynn Smith, said it may sound odd to say it, but Colin is the most athletic of her three children. Her other two children do not have developmental disabilities.

“He liked to swim and was a good swimmer,” she said. “They adjusted the length of the swim, and he did really well.”

Then Mrs. Smith, in talking about Colin’s swimming, herself used her son’s favorite line: “He was very competitive. He did it like everybody else.”

At the theatre, where Mr. Olenick has been a ticket-taker since starting the job with a job coach while in high school, co-workers say he is popular with staff and customers. Fellow ticket-taker Sandra Anderson said when she’s taking tickets and Colin is off duty, moviegoers often ask about him.

“Colin amazes me,” Ms. Anderson said. “He’s an intelligent, nice young man. And he likes to hug too.”

Mr. Olenick said he enjoys the job at Cinemark.

“They treat me like every other employee, not some special case,” he said. “I am one of the few who actually likes the job.”

In grade school and high school, Mr. Olenick and his parents worked hard to keep him in the mainstream and not be treated like some special case. But it was often a battle.

Colin remembers his mother pulling him in the wheelchair up stairs to get him to school. His mother remembered it too.

“The school was not accessible,” she said.

Then there was high school. The school district tried to convince his parents to send him to the school where all children with disabilities were sent. Colin and his parents refused, considering the school he ended up attending was just a short distance from their home and it was the school friends were attending.

“They had one school for kids with disabilities,” remembered  Mrs. Smith. “But why should he have to go there?”

Mrs. Smith said schools were difficult because many things were not accessible for her son’s wheelchair. She said she constantly had to go to the school to help find ways for Colin to be part of normal school activities.

“I used to joke that I should have had my own office at school because I was up there all the time,” she said.

She said the school eventually remodeled to accommodate Colin.

“But of course we had to ask,” she said. “We raised a lot of people’s awareness.”

Mr. Olenick’s education goal at Johnson County Community College is to become a paralegal and work in the disability rights area. He gets help in getting to classes and getting around campus from Anton, who works for Colin’s day and residential service provider, L’Arche USA.

“I know it isn’t high school,” he said. “They are not required to give the same amount of support as elementary and secondary schools. But I’m in there with everybody else. I talk to the teachers and the teachers are comfortable with Anton being there.”

No matter how long it takes, Mr. Olenick said he will stick with the goal to finish college and become a paralegal.

“It’s easier than becoming a lawyer,” he joked. “And I like research.”

Mr. Olenick is already active in disability rights. He has taken several trips to Washington D.C. to advocate for people with disabilities, including a recent trip to advocate for the Community Choice Act aimed at increasing choices for people with disabilities to live in the community and not in nursing facilities.

Mr. Olenick himself was on a waiting list for state services for three years before getting those services.

“It was 2007 before my name came up,” he said. “Before that, I stayed home with my cat and cooked microwave pizza.”.

Without day services, Mr. Olenick said life can be difficult for people with developmental disabilities. He was getting residential services, but had no ability to be out in the community.

“I love L’Arche to death, but all I was doing was sitting around playing video games,” Mr. Olenick said. “That’s all a lot of people do.”

“Tell providers and SRS (the state agency) that people want to work in the community,” he added, “not to put them in sheltered workshops where they play video games all day. Help them get into really competitive jobs in the community. Sheltered workshops are buildings in the community, but not really employment. You could just sit there and they couldn’t fire you. There’s no challenge.”

Rita Patience, Mr. Olenick’s case manager, said he is an excellent advocate for persons with disabilities. She also said he’s a joy to work with, especially because of his humor. She pointed to a recent conversation they had about a bill before the legislature that would have increased funding to people with disabilities through an increase in taxes on alcohol.

“He said ‘hey, if that involves us having to drink more, I‘d be happy to,’” Ms. Patience said.