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General Manager of Mrs E's

“They take the job seriously and do a good job,” Mr. Maranell said of his employees with developmental disabilities.

 


 

General Manager of Mrs E'sNow 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.

 


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

 

“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.”


 

 

 

 

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.

Mary and Robyn at WorkShe has donned the uniform of a nursing home dining room worker, helped clean cat and rabbit cages at the Humane Society, worked in dining rooms of fast food restaurants, and helped as a courtesy clerk at a grocery store.

All these occupations are part of Mary Williams’ occupation.

For four years, she has been a Job Coach for JobLink, the employment program for Cottonwood Inc., the developmental disability center in Lawrence.

As a Job Coach, or Employment Consultant, she 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.

But before she can find her clients a job, Ms. Williams said she has to understand their strengths and limitations, their skills, and, most importantly, their interests. Working with the client, other JobLink staff at Cottonwood Inc., and often family members or other supporters, an Individual Support Plan is developed that details the client’s strengths and their skill level. Ms. Williams said she also meets with the client individually to help develop a profile.

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“I get to know their personality,” she said. “Are they someone who would be good with people? Or, some of them don’t like to be around other people, and I’d try to find them a job behind the scenes, like a warehouse. And, of course, how fast can they work? Can the person see details, read, work fast?”

Then it’s out meeting with local business managers to try to match the client’s attributes to an open position, most often part-time with limited hours.

Robyn Herzog, who has developmental disabilities, is one of Ms. Williams’ successes. Surrounded by support from fellow employees, Robyn has been a dining room attendant at Brandon Woods Retirement Center for three years. She works 20 hours a week setting and clearing tables, bringing drinks to diners, and helping with other dining room chores.
Mary Williams said when Robyn first got the job, she worked with her for about two weeks helping her learn the job.

“I’d show her how to do it,” Ms. Williams said. “Then I’d start observing, doing what’s called ‘fading’ by gradually pulling back” and checking on how Robyn was doing after Robyn completed her shifts. Now, Robyn is doing so well that Mary checks back just every few weeks.

“Robyn learned fast and wants to work hard,” Ms. Williams said. “She had her fears, but she got over them.”

Don Minter, food and beverage director at Brandon Woods, said when Ms. Williams first contacted him about hiring people with developmental disabilities, he didn’t know what to expect. But the people he has put on the staff from JobLink have done well.

“Mary calls when she has people that might fit into our system, ” he said. “We don’t hire them all, but we hire a fair share. I wanted to help the community; help people grow.”
Concerning Robyn Herzog, Mr. Minter said her responsibilities have increased as time passes. He especially praised Robyn’s interaction with Brandon Woods residents and other staff. Robyn is especially close to Trudy Sipes, a geriatric resource specialist at Brandon Woods, who has taken Robyn under her wing.

“We’ve got something really special here, especially the way Robyn and Trudy relate,” Mr. Minter said. “It’s very heartwarming.”

Community jobs for persons with developmental disabilities are very important, both financially and for self-esteem. Ms. Williams said she has seen people change tremendously once they get work outside the Community Developmental Disabilities Center. She remembered one client who was very childlike and dependent before landing a job in the community.

With a community job, she said, "it became ‘I’m an adult. I have to follow the rules. I don’t get special treatment. I better grow up.’"

“I’ve seen that happen,” she said.

But Ms. Williams also does not discount the financial improvement in the lives of people with developmental disabilities who are able to find community employment. She said most receive disability payments, but this keeps them at a poverty level income.

“They’re still not earning enough to take a trip, or buy clothes,” she said. “For some, even four hours a week is a great help.”

Job openings are often dependent on the attitude of the corporation involved, Ms. Williams said.

“Some corporations encourage managers to hire people with disabilities; they see it as a community service,“ she said. “And some, I don’t think they encourage it.”

For JobLink clients, Kansas Rehabilitation Services will pay for things like work clothes or transportation costs for the first 90 days of employment. For clients put on a job on a “Community Job Tryout” basis, the agency will also pay wages for a few weeks to see if the job will work.

Sometimes the job coach’s job is a balancing act. Ms. Williams said if the person she helped get hired doesn’t fit in, she has to pull back.

“If the employee does something the employer doesn’t like, I’ve got to get it straightened out,” she said. “We might lose the employer.”

And if she can’t get it fixed?

“You’ve got to advocate for the employee, but you have to draw the line,” she said. “You have to look at the employer and say ‘I don’t think this is going to work.’ I tell the employer and the employer does the firing.”

But often, the Job Coach can fix problems that may arise.

“That’s where the creativity comes in,” she said. “What is really important is a good relationship with the consumer. Because you can’t fix the problem unless they respect you.”

Ms. Williams, who previously was a high school teacher in northwest Kansas and worked as a recruiter for Americorp for several years, remembered a client who loved cats.

She was able to find employment for at the Humane Society, but the first time the client was sullied by cat feces while cleaning up, he wanted to quit.

“First I calmed him down,” she said. “Then I told him, if you walk out of here, you will be leaving those cats you made friends with. Look at those cats -- you tell them you’re leaving.

“He put his gloves back on,” she said. “And he was very successful. He became head of the cat room.”