Grant helps Habitat For Humanity Roaring Fork integrate disabled workers into community | AspenTimes.com

Grant helps Habitat For Humanity Roaring Fork integrate disabled workers into community

Brian Wilson broke into a big smile Wednesday when he was presented with Habitat For Humanity Roaring Fork's "Most Enthusiastic Team Member" award for 2017.

A smile comes easily for the 32-year-old and it's apparent while visiting Habitat's ReStore warehouse why he was chosen for the award.

Wilson's got a keen awareness of where everything is located in the cavernous warehouse between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. He's known as "King of the Appliances." He accepts donations, rotates merchandise in the second-hand shop and occasionally assists shoppers.

"I like seeing all my co-workers," Wilson said.

He was hired for the job with the help of Mountain Valley Developmental Services, a nonprofit serving Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield and Lake counties. It helps individuals with disabilities prepare for employment, land and keep a job.

For Wilson, the preparation included brushing up on interviewing skills and making sure he was comfortable taking the bus from his home in Glenwood Springs to the Restore about 4 miles south.

Recommended Stories For You

"Brian is super capable and reliable," said Jay Slater, supported employment manager for Mountain Valley Developmental Services.

Mountain Valley has three full-time job coaches and one manager who cover Aspen to Parachute. They will work with the employee and employer after a hire to make sure everything is going well.

"This is the fastest I've seen the support getting dialed back," Slater said, noting that Wilson blended in well and fast.

"Brian wants to be here," said Scott Gilbert, president of the local Habitat chapter.

Habitat hired two part-time workers through Mountain Valley in 2016 and has since added two other workers through the program. A $10,000 grant from the Bob Young Foundation helps Habitat employ the four workers from Mountain Valley. Young is founder of Alpine Banks of Colorado.

"That money will have twice the impact," Gilbert said, referring to the benefits for Habitat and Mountain Valley.

Charlene Romero also has worked at Habitat for nearly two years via the Mountain Valley Developmental Services program.

"I do everything," she said. Charlene has "pretty good computer skills," so she inputs a lot of customer information into Habitat's computer system, according to Slater.

The supported employment program promotes independence and lets the workers "have as regular of a life as possible," he said. The jobs must pay at least minimum wage at a business where the workforce is not primarily made up of people with disabilities.

People with physical or developmental disabilities often are forced to live in a bubble, shut off from normal life in many ways, Slater said. The Roaring Fork Valley is a more welcoming place, he said.

"It's good for Brian in a million different ways but good for the community, as well," Slater said.

The interaction shows that people with disabilities can play a vital role in the community fabric.

Wilson comes from a family rooted in western Garfield County for multiple generations. He previously lived in Rulison but now lives in Glenwood Springs in an apartment complex overseen by Mountain Valley staff. The goal is to get him into an independent apartment.

"The main benefits are the community interplay," Slater said.

The supported employment program has grown threefold since 2012. There were 15 people placed in jobs in 2012. Now there are 43. They work at a variety of jobs from sales associates, customer service, janitorial, office assistants and ranch hands, hostesses and dishwashers.

The program is regularly rated first or second in the state compared with similar agencies. The workers it places work an average of 8.5 hours per week and make an average salary of 17 percent above minimum wage.

Slater said the collaboration between Habitat and Mountain Valley Developmental Service has definitely paid dividends in encouraging self-confidence, self-esteem and a sense of self-worth in the four employees.

"The staff of Habitat Restore has been amazing to work with," he said, "helping to challenge and enable our individuals to do the best job they can."

scondon@aspentimes.com