Job program provides independence for disabled

MGN Middletown

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (AP) — For Kaitlyne McNamara, working at ShopRite has been a way to reach her eventual goal of living on her own.

McNamara, 24, of Middletown, a Middletown High School graduate who was born with a birth defect, has been working at the East Hartford store for four years since the first day MARC: Community Resources began their employment services.

MARC provides educational, therapeutic, rehabilitation and social services to children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities and behavioral health challenges.

“We are always looking for businesses for consumers to work at,” said Kelly Rivers, employment services manager for MARC. “We had called about 80 to 100 businesses a month when we found ShopRite.”

According to Rivers, it was a good match since the director of stores, Scott Harrison, had previous experience with working with individuals with disabilities from another job.

At first, MARC participants worked three days a week in Manchester then two days a week in East Hartford when the store decided to increase the number of days to five a week at both stores when MARC lost another job site.

“Out of the over 125 consumers we work with, 84 are in job sites,” River said. “For some of them, just having a job is the outcome of their goal.”

For McNamara, a graduate of the Middlesex Transition Academy on the Wesleyan University campus who has spina bifida and and short-term memory loss, her goal has been to move out on her own.

“It feels really good to earn a paycheck,” McNamara said. “I eventually want to move out on my own. My bank account then goes to a good thing.”

McNamara spoke last January at the United Way Women’s Initiative breakfast. There, she shared her early struggles, including going through 58 surgeries and counting. In 2007, McNamara met then-president George Bush to discuss getting funding for stem cell research.

“We want to let everyone know that just because we are mentally or physically disabled,” McNamara said last year, “we can do everything they can do.”

At ShopRite, Rivers said about eight consumers a day are bused there to work out of a total of 18 who go to various stores for employment.

MARC members do a variety of jobs at the stores, focusing on cleanliness and organization.

“We pretty much do any odds and ends that some people don’t think of,” McNamara said. “We clean glass, crush cardboard, mop, and dust.”

Gino Pacitto, ShopRite’s liaison for the program, said the other big thing is that the consumers think of things other people wouldn’t.

“They know what needs to be done,” Pacitto said. “There had been a missing piece to the store before the consumers.”

Pacitto said it’s not only been great for the consumers, but the other store employees.

“Some people have stereotypes and they need the exposure,” Pacitto said. “People look forward to having the consumers there. They have a contagious energy. They learn to work with each other and we’ve learned to work with them.”

Pacitto said one thing he’s noticed the consumers have learned is store business.

“They know why it’s busy when,” Pacitto said. “They know food safety such as that warm meat is garbage. They care more and work as a group.”

“It’s been better than what they’ve ever thought was possible,” Rivers said.

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