Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding her freedom in work

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Tanesha, right, chats with her job coach Steve Mathis at work.

Tanesha loves to work. It’s her passion. She loves focusing in on a problem and solving it. As a Courtesy Clerk at the Giant grocery store in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC, each day Tanesha is solving the problem that adults with developmental disabilities cannot work.

The 27-year-old, who was born with a developmental disability, has learned with the help of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute how to turn challenges into moments of learning in the working world. Along the way, she’s become an expert in customer service.

Tanesha is often found in the front of the store, bagging groceries during peak hours and assisting customers. A recent mystery shopper sent by Giant to conduct secret quality assurance checks gave Tanesha a 100 percent pass rating. But one of her favorite parts of the job is shop backing.

Do you ever wonder what happens to that extra frozen pizza or can of beans you decide you don’t want in the checkout line? Tanesha is the one who makes sure all of those items get restocked by “shop backing.” Tanesha could fairly be described as a shop back expert.

She carefully ensures that all of the cold and fresh items, such as a fruit and veggies, are restocked quickly and tidies up the front end of the store when she isn’t called to help with bagging groceries. Her knowledge of the store is pretty complete and often her colleagues often ask her where to find certain items.

“I love to work. At this job, I like working with people and being able to move around the whole store,” she explains to me as we walk the milk aisle, putting back butter, a half gallon of milk and a block of cheese. She stops to neaten the coffee creamers. “You’re supposed to always greet the customers and see how you can help. It’s good.”

She has spent her life working to overcome the perception that someone with a developmental disability cannot work – and each day she brings that determination to her job. She never asks off and routinely calls the store to see if she can pick up an extra shift.

As part of our Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Supported Employment Program, Tanesha receives guidance and job searching support from her Job Development Manager Steve Mathis. They have worked together at Kennedy for four years. He helped her fill out the application at Giant and continues to visit her at work and support her with any challenges. For two years now, she’s been a model employee.

Tanesha recently took part in a hearing with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Her testimony, along with that of her boss, General Manager Jack Eaton, helped highlight the great work that Giant, along with many other local employers, is doing to give those with disability the chance to work.

“She’s grown by leaps and bounds since starting this job,” Mathis said. “I think the biggest improvement has been in her self-confidence. She’s really opened up and began to understand how much she can learn and do. It’s been incredible to watch.”

In the last five years, under the leadership of Eaton, the Giant store in Columbia Heights has hired five people from our Kennedy Supported Employment Program. If you are an employer looking to partner with us, contact the office nearest to you.