News Articles

New Orleans Seminary honored for hiring persons with disabilities

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has been chosen “Employer of the Year” by the local office of the national Association of Retarded Citizens because of the seminary’s successful community involvement in hiring persons with mental retardation.
In presenting the award, Cliff Doescher, executive director of The Arc, said New Orleans Seminary is helping The Arc fulfill its mission of “securing for all people with mental retardation the opportunity to develop, function and live to their fullest potential.”
The Arc is a national organization, with headquarters in Arlington, Texas. In New Orleans, currently 30 other businesses are employing more than 100 workers from The Arc in otherwise difficult-to-fill positions, such as janitorial, groundskeeping, food preparation, clerical, retail sales/stock, warehouse, assembly/packing and laundry services.
“This award is presented to a company that promotes the abilities of all its employees and has displayed a commitment to providing a positive workplace for individuals with disabilities,” Doescher said.
The relationship between the seminary and The Arc began in October 1996 when Chavaze Williams was hired to perform janitorial work in the seminary’s cafeteria — River City Cafe — a beneficial relationship for both the seminary and Williams.
Although his attempt to fit into other mainstream employment environments had been slow, Williams made a successful transition into his new role at the seminary.
Officials from The Arc attribute Williams’ success to the positive work environment that exists both at the seminary’s cafeteria and throughout the seminary.
“Williams encountered a positive, supportive staff, a family environment, giving him a sense of belonging,” said Tom Barnes, director of The Arc’s supported employment division. “He felt like a part of the team and that raised his self-esteem. That, in turn, made him feel like he was worth something and made him want to stay.”
Williams’ success at the seminary opened the door for two other men to become employees. In the fall of 1997, Curtis Harper and Kenneth Williams (no relation to Chavaze Williams) joined the cafeteria staff and have done equally well in their roles.
Their success is helping to dispel some of the myths associated with mental retardation.
The key is to emphasize the person and not the disability, Barnes said. “The goal is to find a job the person with a developmental disability is suited for from the very beginning,” he said.
“With each accomplishment, others will see them for what they can do and not for what they can’t do and for their abilities and not their disabilities,” Barnes said.
With the help of The Arc, job coaches and training provided at no cost to the seminary, each man has solidified his role in the cafeteria. In a vote of confidence from fellow employees, each has been recognized as a “Cafeteria Employee of the Month,” within the past year.
In establishing qualified employers, Barnes said, The Arc looks for companies where:
— all employees are treated equally.
— all employees are accepted for their abilities.
— all employees recognize the effort it takes for individuals with disabilities to produce at the level at which they function.
In return, Barnes said employers receive employees who:
— have a strong desire to succeed.
— are willing to perform to a company’s specifications.
— are consistent performers.
— are motivated and enthusiastic.
— are loyal and dependable.
— usually become long-term employees.
“These are people who want to work,” Barnes said, “people who have the motivation and initiative to become part of the workforce.”
Chavaze Williams is responsible for front-of-the-house janitorial duties at the cafeteria, washing trays and dishes, stocking storeroom and cooler shelves and serving food to preschoolers at the seminary’s preschool education center. With some of the money he is earning, Chavaze Williams contributes to some of his family’s household expenses.
“I like working here and I am not sitting at home doing nothing,” Chavaze Williams said. “This job has given me a lot of skills and I am learning more skills the longer I work here.”
Curtis Harper said he finds satisfaction in his job by making it a point to get along with other workers and giving a helping hand when he has completed his own job duties.
Despite being institutionalized most of his childhood, Harper is proving people with a disability can achieve, be successful and enjoy life. He and his wife recently celebrated 10 years of marriage and are excited about their newest purchase, a house.
“You can do a lot for yourself by working. People can learn from your example. You can encourage others,” Harper said.
Kenneth Williams’ routine begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends each day at 11:30 a.m. He is responsible for the preparation of all salads, sandwiches and croissants for the seminary’s coffee shop Cafe New Orleans — as well as serving the preschool meal with Chavaze Williams. Despite a busy schedule, he too is happy with his job and place of employment.
“I like the people I work with and my mom is proud of me being employee of the month,” Kenneth Williams said.
“My mom told me I need to love my job and I do love my job.”
Despite their disabilities, each man has adapted to his routine and is eager to do a good job and encourage others to do the same. When asked what it takes to be successful on the job, Chavaze Williams has a few pointers:
“If you want to work, be patient, don’t complain and remember it takes a while to learn the process. But you can do it. Take one step at a time.”
“People with mental retardation have proven they can be committed, loyal, competent and dependable employees,” said Liz Moore, assistant director of communication services at the national headquarters for The Arc. “We should hope that employers would give them a chance.”
For more information about hiring people with mental retardation, call a local office of The Arc or contact the national office for The Arc at 1-800-433-5255. The Arc’s website address is http:\TheArc.orgwelcome.html.

    About the Author

  • Steve Achord & Debbie Moore