At the back of the Little Caesar’s Ring Road, Jeff Everett is busy filling pans before the lunch rush hits. He’s focused on his current task, arranging chicken wings in the square pan as if he’s filling in pieces of a puzzle.
A little later, he moves to the pizza line, swirling sauce on unbaked crusts and topping each one with cheese and pepperoni. “I like all the different things to do, and my co-workers are friendly,” he said.
In addition to his job at Little Caesar’s, he works at Frisch’s two days a week. Jeff, who is 47 and has Down syndrome, was employed before his family moved to Harrison, but finding a job here was a completely different experience.
In Chicago, where the Everett family lived before coming to Cincinnati in July 2016, Jeff went through job training in school and was placed at Jewel-Osco grocery store, where he worked for 28 years, said his mom, Sue.
“Jeff had a big transition to go through when we moved. In Chicago, he did other things as well as work—his life was very full,” she said. “He’s done remarkable with the changes.”
After settling in, Jeff expressed interest in looking for a job because he likes staying busy. Unsure of what opportunities they’d find and worried Jeff would easily fall out of a work routine if he stayed at home with nothing to do, his mom reached out to Nathan Beck, employment navigation supervisor for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services.
“Once he decided he wanted to work, it was full-steam ahead,” Sue said.
Beck sat down with the family to discuss Jeff’s employment goals and locally available resources. He helped them set up a search with Ohio Means Jobs, connected Jeff to Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities and started looking at openings in the community. As they visited local businesses, Sue said the biggest obstacle was the online application process required by many places, including Home Depot, Kroger and McDonald’s.
“I truly believe you’ve got to get in front of someone. For a person seeking employment, especially someone with a disability, it’s a huge barrier and the impression you make in person can make or break the opportunity,” she said.
At Frisch’s, her instinct proved true. Jeff walked in, talked to the restaurant manager and was later hired to clear tables and clean the dining room.
When he started at Frisch’s in October 2016, he had a job coach, who also followed him to Little Caesar’s when Jeff took on a second job that same month. Tabitha Davis, his supervisor at the pizza chain, said Jeff works independently but his job coach still checks in with him. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the longer I worked with Jeff, the easier it was,” Davis said. “He knows what’s expected and is always trying to learn and go to the next level.”
Though Jeff had some difficulty with his job search, he’s happy to be working again. “It’s not always easy, but I like it,” he said. “I knew I could do it on my own and it feels good.”
Shortly after he was hired at Little Caesar’s, his case was opened by Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, which continued providing a job coach. “Jeff could have waited around but he took initiative—moving careers and leading the whole process,” Beck said. “His family was really supportive. They took him to interviews, helped him apply and assisted with technology when needed.”
The path Jeff took and the job search process was tough, but it’s “not an impossible task,” Sue said. “Fortunately, we had the support and help exploring different options. We did learn it’s an ongoing process and takes a team!”
When he’s not working, Jeff enjoys watching wrestling with his brother and participating in the Special Olympics. He also loves to travel and going out to eat.