A Win-Win for Northwood Diner and James
LifeShare’s goal of competitive employment benefits both employer and individual
When you walk into Northwood Diner on Mondays, you may see a blurred rush by, a very tall blur, but a blur of action nonetheless. It’s James, the Monday dishwasher who whisks away dirty dishes almost before they hit the bottom of the gray dish containers located strategically around the diner.
James, who is known and well-liked by the diner’s staff and customer regulars, works with his LifeCoach from LifeShare, a national leader in supports and services for people with developmental disabilities and children in the child welfare system. An important part of LifeShare’s focus is opening competitively-compensated employment opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Northwood diner Manager Shawn MacDonald only had a couple of hours to offer james – not even a job with a title – to do things in the diner that no one seemed to have the time to get done on a regular basis: stocking the top shelves (he’s 6’8” tall), sweeping the parking lot, deep cleaning floors, washing walls, etc.
After meeting him, then a 25-year-old from Fremont who had restaurant prep-work experience with a fast food establishment, MacDonald chose to give him a try – and he soon became a valuable asset to the team, working quickly, efficiently, and with a kind word for everyone. The diner, at 1335 1st New Hampshire Turnpike, Northwood, has been managed by MacDonald for 10 years and provides a small “family-type” culture and setting, allowing for an easy transition for James to move into.
That was two years ago. And when a dishwasher position opened up soon after, MacDonald was thrilled to be able to offer it to James.
James is compensated for his work like all employees, with a competitive wage, which in many states where LifeShare operates is a rarity. Often people with developmental disabilities are not paid a competitive wage; however the goal for LifeShare is to support individuals to help them become valuable employees, who earn their wage.
“James is helpful, knows what’s going on, and works well with the other employees,” said MacDonald. “He actually looks forward to coming to work!”
James used to work with his LifeShare LifeCoach Bobbi Davis, who is there to support him and occasionally refocus his attention should he become too chatty with colleagues (a challenge other employees often have!). The goal is to wean the time that Davis spends one-on-one with him as he is able to work competently on his own, to ultimately working using just the “natural supports” found in the workplace.
The goal is to wean the time that Davis spends one-on-one with him as he is able to work competently on his own, to ultimately working using just the “natural supports” found in the workplace.
Said MacDonald, “We weren’t doing James a favor by hiring him; he does his work.” In fact, in the two years he’s been at Northwood Diner, he’s earned a raise.
“I can see a difference in him over the time he’s been here,” said diner regular Bob Caldwell, of Northwood. “He’s happy to be here, he wants to be here, he looks forward to being here. It’s nice to see it. He’s a great success story.”
If other businesses are willing to try it and there’s a “fit,” Caldwell said, “there is no reason other businesses couldn’t try it (employ a person with developmental disabilities through LifeShare).”
MacDonald agrees. Having James working at the diner sets a good example for the community and shows that programs like this can be successful and not a scary proposition for a potential employer, she said. “Everyone here has just embraced him as one of our staff members.”
And for MacDonald, good employees are hard to come by.
“If I could get an entire staff with his work ethic,” she laughed, “that would make my life so much easier!”
Competitive employment for individuals with disabilities is not only at the forefront in how states develop programs for people of all abilities, but it has been demonstrated to have great benefits, including maximizing independence (James saves his money), improving health, and increasing happiness.
Research backs that. A 2005 study found that employment is the best way of making money, which is essential to full participation in today’s society; employment meets the needs that allow the fostering of self-confidence and a sense of belonging; and when purposeful to the individual, employment becomes a part of one’s identity.
Dedicated to the preservation and safeguarding of Civil and Human Rights, LifeShare’s motto is “Real Life for Real People.” Founded in 1995, LifeShare continues its mission to create empowering home and community-based supports for people with developmental disabilities, children in the child welfare system and people of all ages and abilities, particularly those who are often marginalized by society. LifeShare offers a range of services including residential, community-based and in-home support programs, competitive employment, as well as mental health services for children and adults.
A national organization headquartered in Manchester, NH, LifeShare currently provides services in eight states – NH, ME, MA, RI, FL, AZ, GA, SC, and also consults with Medicaid Managed Care organizations, commercial insurers and state governments. For more information, visit www.lifeshareusa.com or call603-625-8825.