Hi-Hope center helps disabled gain employment

Wayne likes a lot of things about his job as an arena attendant at Jungle Jump Adventures in Buford. His bosses - "I like 'em." His newly acquired earning power - "I buy CDs, tapes, clothes and shoes." And especially the youngsters he gently shepherds through hours of airborne fun atop huge inflatables - "I like kids. That's the best part." But the greatest thing about the job actually is what it has done inside the 35-year-old Hi-Hope client.

"He's a different person. It's like, for the first time, he feels so important," says his mother, Jeanne Mack. "He's taken such ownership of it. He came home one day and said, 'I may have to move. They're thinking about franchising.'"

Wayne, who since 1993 had worked only in our sheltered workshop, was one of the first employees Stephanie Consie and Milinda Bell hired when they opened their indoor inflatables business last November.

"We saw potential," says Consie. "He had a good attitude, was happy and always smiling."

The only question was whether Wayne would feel comfortable reining in excited children to keep them safe.

"One of the things we weren't too sure about in the beginning was his ability to enforce the rules - being able to tell children, 'Feet first,' or 'You have to have socks on,' or all the rules the kids have to abide by," says Hi-Hope job coach Sue Wight. "But he's surprised the heck out of us. He told me it was kind of hard at first, but he knew it was part of his job."

In fact, his nickname at work is "The Enforcer."

Says Wayne: "I come out here in the arena and watch the kids to make sure they follow the rules and do what they're supposed to do. They're not supposed to enter the inflatables over the sides, so I have to get onto them for that."

Do they listen? "Sometimes," he says, chuckling.

One of Hi-Hope's most important services to Gwinnett residents with developmental disabilities is to help them achieve gainful employment. Our community employment services begin with a thorough examination of a client's job interests and abilities. Once we find a position that matches those interests and abilities, a Hi-Hope job coach supports the client through the application and interview process and even accompanies him to employee orientation. The job coach also keeps up with the client's weekly work schedule, arranges transportation and provides onsite training and long-term monitoring of his performance and his employer's satisfaction.

This focused effort pays off not only for our clients but also for local businesses. Employees hired through Hi-Hope arrive on time for work, are happy in their jobs and remain employed far longer than most part-time workers, particularly in the retail sector.

Robby, for example, has sorted books at the Borders bookstore in Snellville for six years.

Randy has been a dining room attendant at a Burger King in Duluth for five years.

Jena has been a top-performing courtesy clerk at a local Publix store for three years.

And Wayne, almost a year after going to work for Jungle Jump, is the only original employee still on the payroll.

"Wayne has done a fabulous job. He is one of our best employees," says Consie. "He shows up on time, has never called in sick, just does his job and does it happily. He is a joy to have here."

Twenty-one Hi-Hope clients now have part-time jobs in our community. Eleven are employed at local restaurants; five at grocery stores; four at other retail businesses; and one at a packing company. Some of those employment arrangements have been innovative.

California Dreaming in Duluth created four part-time positions for Hi-Hope clients - Mary, Yvonne, Patsy and Traci - by carving out of the wait staff's daily responsibilities of some routine, but necessary, morning tasks. "It's worked out great," says office manager Jennifer Kave. "They roll silverware, refill table salt and wipe down and straighten the tables so we're ready to open for


Matt and Steve recently began job sharing a single part-time position at an Ingles grocery store in Dacula. They clean the store's entrances, bring in carts, dry mop the entire floor and straighten shelves. In addition to the clients who have regular jobs, another 20 Hi-Hope clients work in small-group "enclaves" at Gwinnett County businesses.

A year-round Hi-Hope enclave has provided groundskeeping services at Lake Lanier Islands for more than 20 years. A second enclave was assembled for the summer at the resort's water park. And since the mid-1990s, Hi-Hope crews have provided short-term packing and assembly services to Micromeritics, a company that sells laboratory equipment. "One group of clients inspects small glass vials for chips or cracks and then uses needle-nose pliers to replace them in trays of 1,000 vials," says Linda Hughes, manager of Hi-Hope's Employment Services. "Another group assembles filter caps that are the size of a pencil


Many of the 100 men and women in Hi-Hope's sheltered workshop would love to work in the community. To find out how your business can receive a $2,500 federal tax credit for giving them that chance, call Jocelyn Barner, supervisor of community employment, at 770-963-8694, ext. 27. Or check out our new community employment brochure at www.hihopecenter.org.