Motivation leads to customized community job

Deneka Jett remembers the exact moment and how she felt. Last August, shortly after her job interview, she found out she was hired as a customer support representative for Sears at Northgate Mall.

“I was really excited and jumping up and down on the inside,” she said with a huge smile. It’s her first community job and a position created just for her. Jett, who uses a power wheelchair, welcomes customers to the store and guides them to specific departments.

She tried working in the community before but wasn’t successful. This time it was different.

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Deneka Jett with her SSA Andrea Bunting, who helped her try to find community employment

“I wanted more than anything to feel good about myself and be more important and motivated,” she said. Her Service and Support Administrator Andrea Bunting helped reopen her case with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD). After a few initial meetings with OOD, Jett, 46, chose Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries as her job developer. Each week, she met with Employment Specialist Mark Leugers to practice her computer and interview skills.

“She’s very social and not shy,” Bunting said. “Mark worked well with Deneka, and I think that made the difference. He has a knack for creating jobs.”

After learning about Jett’s interests, strengths and skills, Leugers met with multiple employers to find the right fit. When he walked into the Northgate Sears store, something clicked. “The layout was confusing – I didn’t know where the office was – so I told them how Deneka could benefit Sears and how it was a great customer service opportunity,” he said. “They loved the idea, and we figured out how to make it work with their job description.”

Jett said she struggled a bit at first, especially learning the store layout, but she was open to learning more about her job. “Don’t give up, I almost did,” she said. “It feels so good to get up and say ‘I got to go to work today.’ And it feels good to have my manager say I’m doing a great job and am a good employee.”

She works two days a week at Sears and attends REM Ohio four days a week, where she’s brushing up on her computer skills to advance in her position.

“Deneka initiated this whole process because she wanted to try again. Sometimes that’s all it takes,” Bunting said.

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Finding the right fit at Xavier University

Jason Morency zips around the room refilling napkin holders in his section, occasionally stopping at a table to share one of his signature jokes. It’s around 3 p.m. on a gray January day, and he is in the middle of his shift at Xavier University’s dining hall, where he works about 30 hours a week.

Morency, who has tuberous sclerosis, has been there for six years but began working on the college campus in 2011, as part of Project Search, a job-training program for young adults with disabilities. His first job was delivering mail and he held other positions before switching to the dining hall.

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Jason Morency smiles in the Xavier University dining hall during his shift. He landed the job after completing Project SEARCH.

“When I found out I was going to be hired, I was excited and speechless,” he said. “I’m very particular and like to make things organized and look neat.”

In addition to filling napkin holders, Morency tops off salt and pepper shakers, wipes down tables and sweeps floors in his sections. Sometimes he also helps co-workers by filling condiments or restocking bread, fruit and other food.

“We’re all about teamwork, and Jason is fast and efficient and good at what he does,” said Denise Harston, who also works in the dining hall. “He always talks to people, jokes with students and is very helpful. We all love him—he’s part of the family.”

Interactions with students and welcoming colleagues are his favorite part of the job. “I feel lucky and fortunate for my schedule and the people I work with,” he said. “It’s fun and can be stressful at times, but that makes you think of the positive parts of the job because there are so many nice people.”

His mom, Sue, said her son enjoys working in the dining hall and got to know a lot of the staff while he was delivering mail. “He’s always thrived when he’s around people,” she said. “He has a wonderful boss who is accepting and understanding, and does a fantastic job of making sure Jason is where he fits best.”

Morency, 27, moved into his own condo in August 2016 , where he continues to collect tabs for the local Ronald McDonald House.  It’s a hobby he began when he was 8 years old and has donated more than 2,500 pounds of tabs, which helps fund the organization’s programs. When not working, he’s also active in the Special Olympics, playing soccer, basketball and other sports.

Determination, support leads to two fulfilling jobs

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.

Jeff BlogA 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.

Jeff E ReflectionsWhen 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.

Ambition leads to right fit for work

For Eddie Gregory, getting a job he enjoys took some work. He had a job at Kroger but was looking for something more fulfilling. Gregory, who lives in Oakley, knew the LADD-owned Find A Way apartment complex was having trouble finding and retaining someone to clean the building.

EddieBLOGHe kept talking to the manager and letting him know he wanted the job. His persistence paid off when he was hired last June to clean the building and perform other light maintenance tasks.

“I’m a hard worker, and it feels good when people notice the cleanliness of the building. And I enjoy it,” Gregory said.

Neil Ferencak, LADD’s coordinator for Find A Way, said they went through a few different employees before hiring Gregory. “It’s a big help having Eddie here,” he said. “He’s reliable and positive, and he also has really good interactions with the residents.”

Resident Adelaide Geier said he does a really good job, and she’s happy with his work. “I’ve been here a long time and noticed a difference. It’s very clean,” she said.

Gregory works a few hours each day during the week, following a list of tasks that need completed. And he’s also learning new skills that help him with projects at home, which he shares with a young family.

He likes making money, which he’s saving to go on trips, but his favorite part of the job is becoming close with many of the residents who live at Find A Way. “I made a lot of friends and now we do more stuff together,” he said.

It took him a while to find the right fit, and Gregory advises others looking for a job in the community to not get discouraged. “Keep trying out different things until you find something you’re interested in,” he said.

Joining passion and community with a job he loves

Today is National Beer Day (yes, that’s a thing), and it’s the perfect day to share this new video from MadTree Brewing and Starfire.

It features Michael, who loves beer, and has been working at MadTree since 2013. He’s a vital part of the company and considered part of the family. Watch part one and part two of the video series below.

Love of Beer Builds Community

A Seat at the Table for Everyone

Dependable worker brightens day for customers, co-workers

“Hi, Laura!” says a customer pushing a cart around a corner. “Hello, how are you?” asks Laura Williams before continuing down an aisle to put an unwanted item back on the shelf.

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Laura Williams has worked at the Mt. Washington Kroger for 10 years and was named Employee of the Month.

It’s not unusual for Williams, 34, to exchange smiles and have conversations with shoppers during her shifts at the Mt. Washington Kroger. And often, when out in her Anderson Township neighborhood, she’s recognized by regular customers.

“I get so excited,” she said of seeing customers outside of the store. “It’s awesome. They say hello because I always brighten their day.”

Williams, who has Down syndrome, has worked at the Mt. Washington Kroger for a decade but started at the grocery store’s Loveland location 13 years ago. “She was trying to find a job when we stopped in that Kroger,” said her mom, Steph Tacy. “The store manager talked to her and hired Laura on the spot because she had previous work experience at fast food places.”

Williams has always wanted to work in the community. At 16 years old she came to her parents, her mom said, and told them it was her “time to go and get a job” because her brother also started working when he was 16. “She just wanted to work like everyone else,” Tacy said.

laura3At Kroger, Williams helps with bagging customers’ groceries, gathering carts from the parking lot, cleaning and restocking items people leave at checkout or return to the store. And because she is efficient and dependable, Williams is now acting utility clerk, which means more responsibility.

“Laura is a real help to have around the store – she knows where everything is and you don’t have to hold her hand,” said Stephanie Reed, customer service manager at the Mt. Washington Kroger. “She has a positive attitude and always has a smile on her face. She’s amazing and makes my day every day.”

In all her years at Kroger, Williams has never taken a sick day and was named Employee of the Month. “It was my first time being Employee of the Month, and I’m proud of myself,” she said. “It’s nice to be recognized and feels good.”

When she’s not working, Williams practices taekwondo twice a week at a local academy. She earned her third-degree black belt and continues to train for the next level.

Guest post: Finding the perfect fit with a local business

Contributed by the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities

The Cade sisters love to be with each other, and they love to clean. “Cleaning is their thing,” says Rebecca Puckett, an SSA at the Vinton County Board of Developmental Disabilities (VCBDD).

But their love for each other and necessity to work together meant finding a very accommodating employer, which was tricky. “They are just really, really close. Been together their whole lives…never been apart. It was a struggle to find employment because they would have to take on two,” Puckett remarks. “They wanted to work the same shifts.”

Margaret and Mamie Cade with Michael Williams at his business, where both sisters work.
Margaret and Mamie Cade with Michael Williams at his business, where both sisters work.

Enter Michael Williams, owner and director at R.M. Funeral Services.  As a student at Ohio University in Athens, Williams saw a young man with developmental disabilities working at a Wendy’s and vowed that if he started a business, he would do what he could to employ a person with developmental disabilities.

As a small business owner, he was wearing a lot of hats. In addition to cleaning and upkeep around his facility, he was performing all of the day to day business operations. He reached the point when cleaning and general maintenance, which he views as paramount to the success of his business, was falling to the backburner. “Cleaning is a constant. The busier we are, the more cleaning. We want to make sure that our facility is top notch for families,” stresses Williams.

The Cade sisters were matched with R.M. Funeral Services by Employment First Job Coach Ashley Darling and have been employed since March of 2016, working two days a week. Their hard work, earnestness, and attention to detail led to even more work from Williams, such as gardening, and property and building maintenance.

“Once I developed a relationship with them, I knew they would do a great job. There is always something that can be done,” Williams comments. “I wish I could get some of the other business owners here to jump on board. It’s beneficial for [them], beneficial for the person with special needs, and it benefits the customers.”

In addition to cleaning at R.M., the sisters have a great fondness for gardening, and work at a greenhouse. They also clean for other businesses as needed. In their free time, the sisters solve a lot of jigsaw puzzles, and love watching the Ohio University Bobcats play football and basketball.

“Employment First is exemplified by the cooperation of multiple agencies, supports provided through the VCBDD, and the desire of a local business to hire to people’s strengths,” says Tina Spanos from VCBDD. “That is what provided the Cades the springboard to success [at] their jobs.”

The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) oversees a statewide system of supports and services for people with developmental disabilities and their families. The agency’s mission is continuous improvement of the quality of life for Ohio’s citizens with developmental disabilities and their families.