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.

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.

2016: Expanding awareness and showcasing employment successes

This past year was filled stories recognizing how successful people with disabilities can be when they work in the community—not just by us as an agency or a blog but also by our local partners, statewide media and even Ellen DeGeneres.

Sharon Whitling shows off some of the famous treats at Cheesecake Please Cafe

We highlighted the stories of Sharon Whitling, who works at Cheesecake, Please! in Colerain Township; David Walters, who has worked for Frisch’s for 25 years; Leah Alexander, whose creativity shined while she worked at Sewn in Oakley; and Zachariah McCall, whose smile lights up the Panera restaurant in Kenwood.

Emily Schneider’s story showed how customizing employment benefited both her and one local Marco’s Pizza, where she enjoys making the dough. And Jillian Daugherty shared, in her own words, what it was like to have a job she loves in the athletic department at Northern Kentucky University.

Matthew Wheeler is fast, efficient and does his work with a smile.

Other successes include: Ron Martin, who has cerebral palsy and works in the mail room at our agency’s Support Center; Matthew Wheeler, who learned skills at Franks Adult Center that helped him get a job at Kroger; Hannah Hartman, who is nonverbal and worked in the Mercy Hospital Fairfield stock room while attending Rost School; and students at Fairfax School, who learned assembly line skills to pack food bags for a local charity.

We debuted a new column by HCDDS Benefits Specialist Antonio Akins about how having a job impacts benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). His column joined others by Employment Coordinator Nathan Beck, who wrote about how data can drive disability hiring initiatives, and Transition Supervisor Lisa Grady, who provided insight on using preferences, interests, needs and strengths (PINS) to find the right fit for transition-age students.

Local providers like Ohio Valley Goodwill, Easterseals serving Greater Cincinnati, and Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD) also told stories about people with developmental disabilities who are successfully employed in the community. And the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati and Starfire shared how they’re reaching out to businesses to get more people jobs.

Joe Lautenslager and Diann Shafer of Kings Island at the Workforce Solutions Summit

As a region, the continued partnership among the county boards of DD in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties is making strides. Together, we produced four 30-second television commercials featuring people from each county that aired throughout the year. We also debuted two new videos—one aimed at businesses and the other for individuals and families—that have been widely shared, including at a regional Workforce Solutions Summit where businesses shared strategies for making people with disabilities part of diversity and inclusion hiring initiatives.

And the message of “Employment Works for People with Disabilities” reached the broadest possible audience with television promos airing throughout Super Bowl Sunday.

These efforts are starting to get more recognition from Cincinnati media and other outlets around the state. Local 12 told the story of a coffee shop in Covington that helps with job training and how thinking outside the box created a new position for Doug Goering. WCPO shared how persistence helped Brianne Hoagland get a job she loves. The Columbus Dispatch highlighted a job-training program that focuses on soft skills to improves success rates, as well as a partnership between ARC Industries and Cheryl’s Cookies.

Nakiea Spaulding at her job at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She was featured in our commercials this year.

Nationally, the U.S. House Small Business Committee conducted a hearing on disability inclusion and heard from Terri Hogan, owner of Contemporary Cabinetry East, who has employed people with disabilities for years. “Hiring people who are physically, genetically or cognitively diverse is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do,” she told the Committee. Even Ellen DeGeneres shined a light on employment for people with disabilities by having viral video star Sam, the dancing barista with autism, and his manager Chris on her national talk show.

But our Employment Spotlight blog isn’t just about sharing successes—we try to provide resources to businesses and job seekers. We highlighted the new hiring toolkit for employers and managers, the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities new hiring hotline and website for job seekers, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Diverse by Design pilot program and related events, as well as how big tech companies report on disability inclusion in the workplace.

It’s nice to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come regarding employment for people with developmental disabilities, but it’s also important to recognize this work is far from complete. We hope you’ll continue on this journey with us in 2017!

A different approach to finding a job

For people with disabilities, the unemployment rate is more than double that of people without disabilities. And statistics show people with disabilities participate in the labor force at a much lower rate than the general population.

But for many in Cincinnati, the goal of working in the community is becoming a reality, thanks to Starfire’s approach that rethinks how people get jobs.

Starfire is … building people’s social connections. Landing a job often comes down to “who you know,” but the average person with developmental disabilities only has a network of 2 community relationships (unpaid, non-family, people without disabilities). At Starfire, 92% of the jobs attained with our support come directly from social connections, so we know our approach is working, even though it makes us a little different. We don’t invest people’s time and efforts on repetitive “job training readiness” such as mock interviews, resume building, or piecemeal work. Instead, we help people be “known” for their gifts and passions, so that when they apply for a job, their proven abilities are at the forefront of employer’s minds.

Becky at SAF Holland

That’s led to many success stories like Becky, who works at SAF Holland. She turned to Starfire to help her build confidence and get out in the workforce. It includes people like Molly, who works at Neyra. Her supervisor has said Molly is “always so considerate and she always remembers little tidbits about people. She’s able to help get a lot of the administrative duties out of the way. So it’s helped free up a lot of their time to make our process in finances more efficient.”

Starfire’s approach has also helped Mike, who works at Contemporary Cabinetry East, and Craig, who works at Kinetic Vision. Learn more on Starfire’s Cincibility blog.