This article appears in the April 2018 edition (page 25) of the Salem Business Journal.
By Dick Hughes, special to Marion County
Don Gay was focused on his tasks, reluctant even to pause for a photograph or quick conversation.
It was the lunch-hour rush at an Arby's restaurant in Salem. Don was wiping down the tables and chairs, clearing away the trash and keeping the customer area clean.
"Good job. Makes me happy," Don said.
Don Gay, 51, is among the more than 2,900 Marion County residents who experience an intellectual or developmental disability – I/DD.
Like Don, many want to work; to earn a paycheck, even when it's only a few hours a week; and to have the sense of pride, accomplishment and self-worth that comes from having a job.
"The clients are so happy when they find a job. They just glow," said Betty Fennell, who is part of the Job Development Team for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette. "It's amazing how much they can do when given a chance."
Under the state's Employment First policy, Oregon has shifted from employment in sheltered workshops to jobs in the larger community where they can earn the minimum wage or more.
It can be challenging to find enough employers who recognize why hiring such individuals is good for business. This is one reason why the Marion County Board of Commissioners proclaimed March 2018 as "Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.
More than 300 individuals with I/DD receiving services from Marion County are employed in the community, according to Program Manager Corissa Neufeldt. More would like to.
"We're hoping people will realize we have an untapped workforce," Neufeldt said. "This is not charity."
They are stable employees, not looking to move on to the next job. They can find enjoyment in repetitive tasks that other workers find boring, such as copying paperwork in an office, folding towels and napkins or, in Don's case, keeping a restaurant tidy. That frees their co-workers for other tasks.
People with I/DD don't necessarily fit traditional job descriptions. The key is creating a niche that benefits both the employee and the employer: "Looking at employment in creative ways that meet business needs and also our clients' needs," Neufeldt said. "We've seen many success stories in our community and encourage businesses to consider employing people who experience an intellectual or developmental disability."
The clients' participation in the workplace often improves workplace morale. In addition, customers see the business as empathetic, which enhances its reputation.
Betty helped Don find his job, and Goodwill provides his job coach, Tim Kronser.
Job coaches help the employee and the employer adapt and work through any obstacles that come up. The coaches make sure the employee learns, understands and follows the job tasks.
"After that, it's letting Don be as independent as he can be," said Tim, whose goal is to gradually fade into the background.
As with any restaurant employee, Don must follow strict cleanliness and safety standards. Tim worked with Don to obtain his food-handler card, and he is at Arby's for each of Don's two-hour shifts.
Don, who lives in an adult foster care home in Salem, takes CherryLift to and from work. Wearing his Arby's apron, cap and nametag, he always arrives early so he has time to get ready.
The staff notices his dependability and timeliness.
"He just keeps busy. All the tables are beautiful. All the chairs are beautiful. He details the backs of the chairs and everything," Arby's shift manager Bernice Schwartz said.
"We all like him."
For more information about Marion County's Intellectual and Developmental Disability program or to inquire about offering employment opportunities for I/DD individuals, please contact Corissa Neufeldt at (503) 763-5787 or firstname.lastname@example.org.