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Local businesses giving developmentally disabled adults opportunities


Every day, Elan Geffen can’t wait to get to work at Marshalls in Boca Raton.

He relishes every task and performs them meticulously — all with a big smile.

“I’m grateful to work at Marshalls,” Geffen says. “I put away chairs and lamps, and put products on the shelves. I put tags on products. I help display seasonal items. I help other employees and customers in the store when I am working.”

Geffen is one of the heartwarming success stories of the Community Works Program — an initiative that the nonprofit JARC Florida and nine partnering Palm Beach County businesses implemented in 2014. The program gives developmentally disabled adults the opportunity to attain meaningful employment.

“This program educates the employers as to the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities,” said Debra C. Hallow, JARC Florida’s CEO. “The hope is that the company will see true value in our clients and eventually hire them as traditional employees.”

Here’s how it works:

JARC Florida’s clients — all of whom are intellectually or developmentally disabled adults — are taught real-life work and social skills by staff members at JARC’s Boca Raton campus.

This includes things like dressing appropriately for work, filling out online job applications and controlling their behavior and emotions while interacting with colleagues and customers.

After mastering those basics, they progress to learning some of the potential skills they’ll need.

For instance, at TJ Maxx, Marshalls or Kmart, they’ll be tasked with folding clothing, stocking shelves and sweeping.

Kitchen-based work at Farmer’s Table, The Cheesecake Factory, Grand Lux Café, The Polo Club, Woodfield Country Club and Addison Reserve Country Club would require cleaning and mopping, as well as chopping, dicing and the like.

After clients reach developmental milestones, they’re placed at one of the aforementioned businesses — where a JARC staff member supervises them on-site.

Essentially, they’re apprentices.

But thanks to a $180,000 sponsorship grant from Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, they’re paid apprentices, earning minimum wage.

This is a win-win for everyone because the businesses receive free labor and clients get to be productive members of society.

“Our clients love the experience,” Hallow said. “It’s like a real job where they get to be in the community with their peers, working and earning money. It’s a very independent feeling for them.”

Likewise, the participating businesses have found the partnership rewarding on multiple levels.

“The Cheesecake Factory is honored to work with JARC and their clients. They have assimilated in our restaurants easily and have become productive and beloved members of our Cheesecake Factory family,” said Gregg Terrazzano, who’s in charge of Area Kitchen Operations for The Cheesecake Factory.

Craig Jones, area kitchen operations manager, east coast, of Grand Lux Café, echoes those sentiments: “The JARC Community Works Program has been a fantastic addition to our team here at Grand Lux Café Boca Raton. The folks who work with us have become a part of our family and we look forward to the time we get to spend with them.”

The ultimate goal for each Community Works participant is to be hired as a staff member. In the program’s three years, more than 50 JARC Florida clients have been become traditional employees — with some recent hires including Marc McClure at Marshalls, Curtis Dierker at Woodfield Country Club, Marsha Hudson at The Cheesecake Factory and Guido Casorla at Farmer’s Table.



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