When the going gets tough, Shangri-la comes to the rescue

The people I work with want work and have a desire to become assets to a company by becoming part of a team. For our coastal communities, a first chance at a job for people living with developmental disabilities is more than employment. It is self-empowerment.

As an employment specialist for Shangri-La, I see every day as a new beginning for people I serve. People I have assisted in the job development and job coaching process have stated this about landing a job:

  • Working with customers gives me a sense of being included in the workforce.
  • A job gives me value as a citizen.
  • I get to make my own money and determine how I live.
  • The job gives me a sense of who I am.

The individuals Shangri-La serves come to our nonprofit many different ways, but one common characteristic is they all want to work. Our mission statement is clear — the reason we exist is “to serve individuals with disabilities or disadvantages so they may recognize and achieve their potential.”

The work we do connects job seekers to employers, but also to people in their lives: spouses, family, guardians, foster parents, teachers, vocational counselors and service coordinators. Our biggest impetus is helping people land jobs in the community, in this case, Lincoln County.

Those employers who have hired people in Shangri-La’s employment services are our heroes. However, we need more mom and pop’s, agencies, city and county offices and regional/national chains to step up and consider hiring adults who happen to be living with a disability.

I regularly speak to hiring managers, business owners, site supervisors and co-workers, and hands down they report hiring people living with autism spectrum disorder, or cerebral palsy (or any developmental disabilities people are born with) is one of the most gratifying things they have done. Contrary to negative spin, studies bear out this: “About 87 percent of respondents believed that hiring people with intellectual disabilities would not negatively affect the image of workplaces.”

Step one might be discovering the person’s gifts and abilities; then job mapping. This is followed by actual job development, which includes mock interviews, and helping with master applications, resumes, entire portfolios. Anyone I work with who lands a job can access our on-the-job coaching services. This might include accommodations. Some people need standing workstations because of inured backs, and others might need visual aids, such as pictograms or short videos, to get the work done.

This is a win-win-win for the job seeker, the job giver, the community.

One of our partners who has hired several people we serve is Sodexo’s Jeffrey Peterson, onsite services operations manager. Sodexo holds the custodial contract for the Lincoln County School District. “I like being able to provide an opportunity for people to challenge themselves and grow as individuals. It is very rewarding to see them learn and achieve,” je said.

What Shangri-La’s Community Employment Services adds to the community is we work with employers, making sure the job fits the person, the tasks get done and the employee is comfortable and given tools to be successful. Many of our clients are limited to half-time work (20 hours a week), since many receive social security benefits.

Shangri-La also acts as an ambassador for all people with any level of abilities to get integrated employment. We believe the state of Oregon’s legislative directive stating people with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities should not be “sheltered” away, cloistered, or hidden from society. Inclusion is our mantra.

I utilize actor Viggo Mortensen’s words to illustrate how valuable time and patience are in supported employment: “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren't enough hours in the day, but if we do each thing calmly and carefully, we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”

Paul Haeder is a counselor at Shangri-La in Newport. Contact him or Community Employment Service manager Kathy Sewell at 541-265-4015. Learn more at www.shangrilaoregon.org/employmentservices.