Tim Bemis used to sleep late and wake at his family home with little to do all day. Now he works four days a week preparing food at a Denny’s restaurant in Oneonta, New York. The job has given Bemis, who is diagnosed with autism, a new sense of purpose.
“It’s my first official job,” says Bemis, 21. “It feels good to be contributing to society.”
He enjoys the connection he has with fellow employees in the bustling pace of kitchen work.
“They kid with me in a loving way,” Bemis says. “It’s like family.”
Individuals with disabilities like Bemis often find it difficult to meet the demands and expectations of living independently and finding employment in their communities.
But Bemis found help at Springbrook, a nonprofit in Oneonta that provides lifelong support to those with developmental disabilities. Springbrook provides a variety of services including educational, residential, therapeutic and community support options.
Bemis participates in Springbrook’s Supported Employment program, which assists adults in finding and maintaining community-based employment. Individuals involved in the program work with Springbrook staff through all phases of the professional experience, including job readiness classroom training, individualized coaching, and assistance with the application and interview process.
The service started in early 2014 and now serves approximately 40 people. The program introduces them to the world of work, sometimes using volunteerism, internships or job shadowing to promote job skill training.
The goal, however, is paid competitive employment. “Springbrook believes that everyone has skills that enable them to be successful in an integrated work environment and that working should be the rule, rather than the exception," says Bridget Lamp, Springbook’s employment services coordinator.
Work confers purpose and the pride of one’s earnings, but an equally strong sense of independence and accomplishment comes from living on one’s own. For those who want to live away from their parents or group homes, Springbrook also offers the Alternative Living Services program.
Program coordinator Hank Lobb says the service responds to a yearning that often goes unanswered. “It’s just like anybody else," he says. “You want to move out of your parents’ house and want to live on your own. Springbrook really wants to have a program where that voice is heard and supported.”
Alternative Living Services works with landlords to find suitable apartments and ensures social workers visit the homes regularly. Sometimes the transition involves teaching people who have never lived of their own the basics, such as adjusting the thermostat or using appliances.
Lobb tells of a 25-year-old with intellectual disabilities who chose to leave a group home to live independently. Now he has a job at Burger King, his own place and weekends free to do whatever he wants.
|Bemis says he enjoys contributing to society.|
“He is kind of a cool story,” Lobb says. “He went from one of the more restricted living conditions to his own apartment. It’s a big jump.”
Both programs give people with disabilities a new sense of accomplishment – a job to go to, an apartment to go home to. They focus on equipping individuals with the means to not only live and work on their own, but to come into their own.
For Bemis, the successes come in small but significant ways. He’s picked up a few Spanish phrases from his Hispanic co-workers. He learned how to use a grill and cook eggs. He enjoyed a barbecue at a co-worker’s home. And having a paying job has given him the satisfaction of contributing to his church.
“I like the people and the food,” he says of his work at Denny’s.
Bemis says he’s invigorated by his morning job.
“It gives me more energy. It helps me to wake up,” Bemis says. “It feels like you’re working out. It’s one of those health benefits from working.”