Richard and Donna: A Little Bit of Faith

Produced in 1986 (Run time 11:24)

Richard Evans: [Inaudible]. I worked at SPRC. Then I talked about money. I asked for help to find a job.

Mary Margaret Hartnett: Richard Evans has mental retardation. He has a severe hearing loss. He has cerebral palsy. He also has an intense desire to succeed that has won him the respect of his employer and fellow employees.

Donna Thompson: I know him from rehab. Yeah, I'm trying to learn how to talk by hand to him. We get along real good.

Mary Margaret Hartnett: Donna Thompson has mental retardation. She shares a job with Richard, has learned to sign with him and interpret for him to other workers.

Richard Evans and Donna Thompson are two of a growing number of Minnesota people whose lives have changed because of supported employment programs. Supported employment programs began in response to mutual needs – the need of society to recognize that it is neither fair nor profitable to isolate people with disabilities from itself, and the need of people with disabilities to have an opportunity to work where other people work, to be paid like everybody else, to be able to socialize with their co-workers. Success of supported employment programs depends upon cooperation between the employee, supporting agency and the employer. Supported employment workers depend on programs like this for opportunities to be paid for work in the community. Vocational agencies need successful placements to survive. But employers, no matter how great their concern for those who have disabilities, need to meet their payrolls, to maintain a profit.

Jay Van Velzen left the position of Director of Operations for Burger King Corporation to own and operate a Burger King restaurant.

Jay Van Velzen: Yeah, I guess it just takes a little bit of faith that people can do more than what you sometimes think they can. When I was first approached, I was a little bit skeptical. But in talking to the people from the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center, they assured me that there would be proper training and that they would be there in any case of emergency or any sorts of problems.

Mary Margaret Hartnett: Shirley Mertens coordinates placement in job matching for clients at the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center.

Shirley Mertens : And so that's what I stressed with Jay is I've got people here who are dependable, who will be here on time, who will have good work habits, good attitudes. They just need a chance. And so that's the way I approached Jay is I've got good people who need a job. In this particular case, they would not have the ability to work at a competitive work speed. My idea was could I take a job and cut it in half, one half for each person. And Jay was real open to that. He said, "Yeah, I think I'd like to try something like that."

Jay Van Velze: When Richard and Donna first came in, everybody was…the natural tendency was to kind of step back a little bit and say, "Oh-oh, what's going on here?" But what ended up happening within the first week that they were here, most of the employees that were working at the same time that they did, got to know them a little bit and got to talk to them and spend a little time with them. They take their lunch breaks out here, and before work and after work they'll sit out here in this area where we're talking right now, and they've become a very integral part of the restaurant. And the other employees have accepted them wholeheartedly.

Mary Margaret Hartnett: Jim Jewell is Restaurant Manager at Burger King.

Jim Jewell : One of the employees said this morning, he goes, "We don't consider them as, you know, handicapped, they're just part of the bunch of the guys." They will work with Donna and Richard and help them out when they need help. And Donna and Richard help them out when they need help, too.

Jay Van Velze: Well, Becky Bazzarre came in on a daily basis until we felt in the restaurant that they could handle it pretty much on their own with some supervision from us yet during the peak periods. But she would come in every day and work with them. And especially at the beginning where like in Richard's case where he doesn't hear real well and can't speak that she would then take him and sign to him what he needed.

Mary Margaret Hartnett: Becky Bazzarre is job coach for Richard and Donna at Burger King.

Becky Bazzarre: I was there with them every day and showed them exactly what had to be done. At times, if they had difficulties performing at any given time, I actually would just do the job to get us through the rush.

Shirley Mertens: We will bring a trainer in who will work with this client until they are up and going, maybe full time to begin with and then begin to fade back. At no time, though, do we completely leave the employer. In other words, they have access to call me or the job coach.

Richard Evans: Becky, yeah.

Jay Van Velze: I just guess the cooperation that I've received from the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center has been absolutely outstanding. Should somebody be sick or have some emergency come up, somebody from the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center will then come out to cover their scheduled shift so that my business or the restaurant isn't being shorted an employee.

Shirley Mertens: The job coach is truly a support system as well as a training method or vehicle for the client as well as the employer.

Mary Margaret Hartnett: The key element in supported employment programs is support. It can come in training workers like Richard and Donna, helping cover a shift for a sick employee, or providing up to the minute information about government programs like Targeted Jobs Tax Credit that can result in net yearly tax benefits to employers of more than $2000 per eligible supported employment worker. There are other advantages in hiring people with disabilities. Under a provision of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employers can be eligible to pay workers with disabilities less than the prevailing wage.

Jay Van Velze: It works out well for the employer because you are paying somebody with a handicap but you're not having to pay them the full wage and you're also decreasing the amount of money that the government is actually spending on them.

Mary Margaret Hartnett: National studies indicate that workers with disabilities use less sick time than other workers, but the support guarantee in supported employment programs means more. It means not having to worry about your new employee.

Shirley Mertens: The other thing that has to be remembered is when an employer hires somebody "off the street" quote unquote, they don't always know what the work speed is. They don't know if they're going to have attendance or punctuality problems. But I know that, and I can tell them that. I know what their dexterity is. So we don't put somebody in a job that we think is not a good match for that employer.

Mary Margaret Hartnett: What an employer gets with supported employment is a guarantee. A guarantee that he or she will have a worker who shows up on time, does the job, and doesn't cost the company extra money by increasing workers compensation or illness benefits. A worker who is backed by an agency that cares just as much about an employer's success as it does about the ability of its client to lead a productive life and work alongside others who do not have disabilities.

Jay Van Velze: Every day they come to work, they're here with a smile on, they're greeting everybody telling everybody good morning and everything else, and work out to be very good employees for me.

Donna Thompson: I feel good. Yeah. I'm glad we're doing real good. We get along real good. Yeah.

Jay Van Velze: They're hard working. They're energetic. They're always at work. And they love their job. And it's like anybody else – if you love the work that you're doing, it's makes it very enjoyable for everybody else around you. So I found it very good for the business, very good for me personally in just the way I feel about it and the way the rest of the crew feels about it, and I would recommend it to anybody.

Donna Thompson: Well, very good. We're doing well. I hope I keep a job like this.

Richard Evans: [Inaudible] I go to the bank and take my check and write it. I won't be broke any more. I'll be working.

The Minnesota Supported Employment Project is co-sponsored by the Division of Rehabilitation Services, Department of Jobs and Training; the Mental Retardation Program Division, Department of Human Services; the Governor's Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities, State Planning Agency; and the Special Education Section, Department of Education.

Major funding was provided by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education project number 128AH60024, Grant number G00835188.

Opinions expressed in the proceeding program are those of the producers. And do not necessary reflect those of The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services