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

It was during a 2007 conference in Wichita on entrepreneurship for people with developmental disabilities that the idea for a laundry service for beauty salons began to take shape.

General Manager of Mrs E's

Special Education teacher Andrea Zody said she thought the possibility of Annie volunteering at the Sternberg was an excellent suggestion.

General Manager of Mrs E's

Mrs. Schneider says the goal of transition is to prepare students for life outside school. This is not something emphasized in the past.

General Manager of Mrs E's

Allison’s mother, Karen Loveland, said Allison has worked in a day care, a flower shop, a nursing home, and fast food restaurants.

 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.

Michael at WorkAt UniFirst Corporation industrial laundry in Wichita, Assistant Production Manager Jeff Hader said he knows that many businesses won’t even consider hiring people with disabilities. But Mr. Hader says this is a mistake, especially when he has an example like Michael Riddle.

“If you give him something to do, he doesn’t stop until it’s done,” Mr. Harder said. “His attitude is second to none, he’s reliable, and he works well unsupervised.”

Mr. Riddle, 22, has been at Unifirst for three years, going back even before the company, formerly called Western Uniform, was purchased by the national corporation. It was Mr. Hader who called the Kansas Elks Training Center for the Handicapped, or KETCH, to ask about hiring someone from the training center for janitorial work after he had another positive experience with hiring individuals from KETCH at a previous job.



Now Mr. Riddle, who has Autism, mild Intellectual Disability and Schizophrenia, is working a 40-hour week, has health insurance through the company, a 401(k) savings plan, and profit sharing. He also gets vacation time, but doesn’t always take it.

“Last year, he lost three or four vacation days because he just forgot to take them,” said Michael’s mom, Kima Mora-Gibbs. “He just loves to go to work.”

At the laundry, which is a huge, highly mechanized plant, Mr. Riddle now works on the south dock, where he unloads trucks, and sorts and weighs rugs, towels and mats. He puts the sorted laundry in large bags that are transferred on an overhead conveyor belt to the washing machine area.

Michael’s Individual Site Job Coach from KETCH, Patty Waters, originally helped train him at the plant, working with him about a week. Now she comes by just a couple of times a month to check up. Mr. Hader said if he decided to move Michael to a new position such as the washing machine area, he would not hesitate to call on Mrs. Waters to help with training.

“If something came up, I’d call KETCH and they would help retrain,” he said.

Mrs. Waters said Michael was recognized by KETCH last year as Community Employee of the Year. She said very few of her clients work as many hours per week; most community employment jobs are part-time.

Michael said he had a series of jobs prior to coming to Unifirst, including community jobs through Chisholm Life Skills School at Blockbuster Video and Cessna Aircraft. He also was employed at KETCH after graduation but soon outgrew this work.

“His supervisor said he did the work so well and so fast, they realized he needed another job,” said Mrs. Gibbs.

It was at Blockbuster, where Michael cleaned shelves and put away videos, that he began a love affair with movies. His mother said he has quite a collection of DVDs and Compact Disks in his room. Michael lives in a KETCH-sponsored home with four other men. His mother said he loves this living arrangement and the independence it offers. Michael takes the city bus to and from work.

Michael’s mother is quite proud of the advancement her son has made in life, especially considering some of the diagnoses she received about him when he was very young. She said officials recommended he be placed in a state hospital and she was told he might not ever walk or talk.

“I told them they were all crazy, and to this day, Michael has proven them wrong,” she said. “He has a good job, a diploma, he’s working hard on his social skills.” She said she has told Michael that his various diagnoses are only “labels” that he can overcome.

“I told him that because of the labels, you have to prove you can do more and better,” she said. “Labels stop you only if you let them.”

She also has high praise for the programs that helped her son advance. She said this started with excellent job skill training at Chisholm. She said the programs at KETCH and the ARC of Sedgwick County have also been very helpful.

“The programs do work; they’re phenomenal,” Mrs. Gibbs said.

At UniFirst, both Mr. Hader and Production Manager David Ricks said Michael brings something special to the job -- a fantastic memory. Mr. Hader said he’ll often mention to Michael some important meeting or telephone call he has to be at or make at a certain time because Michael will remind him in plenty of time.

Mr. Ricks said Michael’s excellent memory paid off for himself and fellow workers another time. During a company-wide meeting, Mr. Ricks said he mentioned that he would buy donuts for the crew. Everyone else forgot this promise, but Michael brought it up a week or so later.

“His mind is kind of like a steel trap,” Mr. Ricks said. “No one remembered this except Mike.”