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.”

 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.

Maureen at WorkMaureen Harvey and Leticia “Tish” Gutierrez know each other well. You can tell by their friendly banter.

Ms. Gutierrez explained that to help Maureen Harvey land a job wrapping silverware she made many a visit to the restaurant to visit with the restaurant manager.

“I was persistent,” Ms. Gutierrez said.

“Like you always are,” said Ms. Harvey.

“Look who’s talking,” shot back Ms. Gutierrez.

There is no doubt that Tish Gutierrez is persistent. As an Employment Specialists for Johnson County Developmental Supports (JCDS) for 22 years, it’s a needed trait in her job. She became an employment specialist after working for three years with clients of JCDS with behavior problems in a sheltered workshop and then on job sites with clients moving to community employment from sheltered workshops.

Working with Ms. Harvey, who is blind and has developmental disabilities, to find the job at Jose Pepper’s in Overland Park took about a year, and that job search came after a year of preparation.

The first step in the process of finding employment for people with disabilities assigned to the agency is getting to know the client and the client’s preferences for employment, said Ms. Gutierrez. .

Meetings are held that include representatives from Kansas Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VR) counselors, employment specialists, and the client and his or her “circle of support,” which could include family members and friends. VR is the state agency that refers people looking for work to agencies such as JCDS. Through these meetings, the employment specialists learn the client’s work history, skills and what they want to do.

Then preparation for employment most often includes the following:

* Job skills testing, known as community-based work assessment. Companies volunteer for this program, allowing JCDS clients to work at their business to determine their skill level and work habits. VR pays the worker’s salary during this assessment period.

* For employment specialists, there are regular visits to the employer, trying to open the door to employment. Ms. Gutierrez says she prefers talking to employers directly, “hitting the pavement quite a bit.”

* For Ms. Harvey, a “jig” had to be created by JCDS. A jig is a device that helps the individual do the work. In Ms. Harvey’s case, a solid plastic tray was created with double-sided Velcro on the bottom to keep the tray in place. Ms. Harvey puts a previously tri-folded napkin on the tray and then places silverware on the napkin and wraps it.

* Once a client is placed in a job, Ms. Gutierrez says they make regular visits to make sure everything is going well. This, she said, is part of the selling point they make with potential employers. “We let them know we’ll be back in to support the client in the job,” she said. “And if the business has other duties they want the client to do, we let the business know we’ll come back in to offer support.”

Ms. Harvey, 31, works five days a week for about 4 hours a day, but often calls in to ask for extra hours.Ms. Gutierrez helped arrange taxi transportation to get her to work.

Ms. Harvey is good at the work, completing more than 400 rolls per shift.

“We enjoy working with Maureen,” said Jose Pepper’s Manager Bill Ridgeway. He said the staff at the restaurant are attuned to Ms. Harvey’s needs and when Ms. Harvey raises her hand when she needs more silverware or napkins, they respond as quickly as they can.

One server at Jose Pepper’s said she gets along very well with Ms. Harvey.

“Maureen has a good sense of humor,” she said. “She makes me laugh…she can crack me up sometimes.”

Ms. Gutierrez came to JCDS after earning a degree in Recreational Administration at Kansas State University with a minor in Special Education.

“I wanted to do something in therapeutic recreation,“ she said. “I knew I wanted to do something to help people. I think I have a knack for helping people.”

Ms. Gutierrez said employment specialists each have to find what works best for them in finding work for clients. But she said they must always keep one thing in mind:

“You have to always think of what is best for the consumer.”