Sunday, December 30, 2007

Emilie Employed

In July I posted about my daughter Emilie.

At that time we were proud that she had graduated from high school and was approved for supported employment. This meant her assigned agency would help her find a job, make the necessary arrangements with the employer, and provide support. This is not "busy work" or a "job program". There are many companies who are willing to hire people with some level of disability. The fact is, companies know that for some jobs, and for many reasons, people in supported employment make great employees. They tend to have great attendance, take pride in their work, do not bring personal "drama" to the job, and often have longevity in their employment.

In September I noticed that a Trader Joes was under construction about four blocks from my office. Trader Joes is a supermarket featuring healthy foods at great prices. They are also known for their helpful, friendly, energetic employees. It certainly seemed worth a try. We asked the agency to see whether Trader Joes would work with supported employment. They called us back and said they were sorry, but they inquired and Trader Joes said all the employees had to be cross-trained on the cash register, and that was not something Em could do. They promised to look for something else for her.

Every day I passed Trader Joes and watched it being built. One day I saw a sign saying "Trader Joes Employment, Now Interviewing". I walked over with Emilie and asked the interviewers if she could apply for a job. I was very clear that she had some disablilities and this would be supported employment. I also told them we had looked at the list of things a Trader Joes crewmember had to do, and we were sure Emilie could do 16 of the 20 items VERY well. She was given a job application and a pen.

Emilie filled out the application by herself. There was a math test at the end....addition, subtraction, mutiplication, division, and fractions. I did not help her, she is pretty good at those. The last question was some kind of word/math problem, one of those "the shelves are 1/4 full and a delivery is brought to the floor with 7/8 of the amount needed.....etc". She brought it over to me and said "This part is hard." I could have tried to help her, but instead I said "You're right, it IS hard.....Hand in what you did." One of the supervisors took her application and then said to us "I will interview her now." I got a little protective and asked if I could stay nearby in case I was needed, and the interviewer said OK, but he wanted to see how she did with her own answers. I then witnessed one of the best job interviews ever.....

Trader Joes interviewer: "Why would you like to work at Trader Joes?"

Emilie thought this over and said: "I like healthy foods......It's a new store, a new store is good......It's near my house."

The next day Emilie received a message at home to call for a second interview. We called the supported employment agency and told them we had gotten Emilie to the second interview stage, and we hoped they could get involved. They asked if we made it clear to Trader Joes this was going to be supported employment. I said "I swear, I told them."

They sent a guy named Pete, who coached Emilie for her interview, and accompanied her there. He also explained to the Trader Joes people about the services that would be offered to Emilie, and about the benefits to the employer in supported employment. He also told me that one of the biggest challenges for their agency is getting good leads with open minded employers, and that we had really helped THEM by opening this door.

I waited outside the unopened Trader Joes while Emilie and Pete were at the interview. When they came out Pete had a big smile on his face, and after looking back to see nobody was looking, he gave me a big high-five and said "She's hired......20 hours per week, a month of training starting next week!!!" I said to Emilie "This is great, I'm so proud of you." To which she replied "I can take the Q-11 bus to work." And then...I laughed till I cried.

When training started, Emilie was assigned a job coach, Ben. He went to all the training sessions with her. He also stayed on the job with her for the first month. Next time I'm feeling cynical about people, I will think of Ben, and Pete, and all the people like them, and know there ARE good people in this world doing good things.

I should also say that Ben has been doing this work for many years. He told me that of all the jobs and employers he has ever been around, he has NEVER seen a company treat their new employees better than Trader Joes. I have to agree with this. Emilie is doing very well at her job, and when Felicia or I come in to shop (and to see how things are going), the managers tell us they WANT Emilie to succeed there, and she is one of their hardest workers. Whenever we tell one of the cashiers or other crew members who we are, they all know Emilie and tell us how much they like working with her. This attitude comes from the top, both in the types of people they are hiring and in the example being set.

We are big Trader Joes fans. We do most of our food shopping there. I'd urge anyone who has never been there to check it out. The Queens store has a big parking lot. It's on Metropolitan Avenue near Woodhaven Blvd....near Home Depot.

Here are some Trader Joes links:



Dr Seinuk said...

Congratulations to Emily on her new Job.

Maxx said...

Sweet, you seem like a great father.
I'm considering applying myself for
a part time position. Your story was helpful.