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Agency creates jobs for the disabled

Posted: May 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 20, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Anderson carries out a floor mat.

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Hours before the first customer comes in, Becky Anderson is stocking condiments and wiping down tables at the Jersey Mike's Subs on Bouquet Canyon Road.

The two-hour morning shift, four days a week, is as much as Anderson can take on - but just those eight hours each week have given the 28-year-old a sense of independence that was missing for the last decade she was unemployed.

Anderson was born with cerebral palsy and is one of the many Santa Clarita residents that have found employment through Pleasantview Industries, a work-placement program for the developmentally disabled in the area.

She has limited use of her left hand and a seizure condition on top of the palsy, which had made it difficult for her to find employment. The Valencia High School graduate lived at home, jobless, for nearly a decade before the Santa Clarita-based Pleasantview Industries found her a job that fit her capabilities and hours.

"If I didn't have this job, I'd still be sitting in my room watching TV," Anderson said.

Pleasantview was established in Santa Clarita in 1969 to create employment opportunities for the developmentally disabled. Businesses could outsource sorting, packaging, light assembly work and similar services to Pleasantview clients. Currently, about 60 clients regularly perform such jobs at the Pleasantview office on Urbandale Avenue in Saugus.

In 1989, Pleasantview expanded its services with the supported employment program, which is the one Anderson used to get her job at Jersey Mike's.

Jennifer Zimmerman, Pleasantview's supported employment coordinator, said her clients come from the California Department of Developmental Services. She places about 17-18 clients annually in various ways - either an employer will ask if Zimmerman has any clients that could perform the job it has open (Target and local grocery stores regularly hire Pleasantview clients), or Zimmerman approaches employers to show how a Pleasantview client would be able to perform a particular job.

"I'm always looking at jobs and thinking, ‘Can one of my clients do this?'" Zimmerman said.

Or, in Anderson's case, the employer will create a brand-new role, like local Jersey Mike's owner Steve Youlios did a year ago. Zimmerman had been trying to find a job for Anderson for more than a year, but most employers needed to hire someone for more hours than Anderson was capable of working. Then, it clicked to Zimmerman that perhaps Anderson - who loved to clean - could take on some of the duties of opening the store.

Youlios had been working with Zimmerman for a while to find a way to hire a Pleasantview client and jumped at the chance to hire Anderson for a few hours a week.

"If Steven wasn't open to having Becky come in, then she wouldn't be working," Zimmerman said.

This is the case for most of Pleasantview's clients, and developmentally challenged people across the country, who typically need assistance finding jobs that fit their needs and limitations.

California alone provided employment services to 73,273 developmentally challenged resident in 2010, according to the state's intellectual and developmental disabilities agency.

While the clients gain a sense of independence and purpose, employers also benefit from hiring from Pleasantview. All employers that hire through Pleasantview qualify for the work opportunity tax credit, disabled access credit and possibly the local enterprise zone credit. And, less tangibly, many companies have seen the company morale increase with the presence of a Pleasantview client.

"She's an unbelievably terrific employee," Youlios said. "Becky makes me want to do more." He plans to create a similar position in his other two locations.

"We've had employers say, ‘Why didn't we do this sooner?'" Zimmerman said. "It's such an untapped resource; it's not even funny."

Zimmerman has worked for Pleasantview for seven years and said local businesses have since become more open to the idea of taking on a developmentally disabled employee. Although there was a dip in the number of placements during the peak of the recession - Zimmerman placed about a dozen instead of the usual 15-plus in 2010 - she is continuing to find more opportunities to get her clients working. AMS Fulfillment just hired on seven Pleasantview clients, a huge bulk hire for the agency.

However, employers still have some doubts about taking a chance on a Pleasantview client.

"I think employers here get scared that if it doesn't work out for them, they're afraid to fire (the client)," Zimmerman said. But she said Pleasantview job coaches stay with the client full-time on the job until they are able to perform the job on their own, and then the job coaches check in on a weekly basis. Employers are always able to contact the job coach if problems arise.

"Sometimes, it's just not a good fit," Zimmerman said.

But when it is a good fit - like for Anderson, who has increased her hours and received a pay raise - the client can stay in the job for years. One Pleasantview client has been in his job for 17 years, Zimmerman said.

"They just want to work," Zimmerman said. "They want a purpose and to be part of a team just like everyone else."

 

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