Jesse Maes sweeps a floor in an Ellinwood truck repair shop during a recent summer morning. With no air conditioning, the shop is already warm en route to another summer scorcher, and Maes is dotted with small beads of sweat on his face and neck. Large dirt and grease splotches decorate his T-shirt and dungarees, giving proof of the work that he has already accomplished half-way through his shift.
It’s a dirty job at Bumper To Bumper, but Maes is thrilled to do it. He feels value in being relied upon to do the job right! From 8 a.m. to noon Tuesdays through Fridays, Maes cleans the shop, paints, pulls weeds outside the building and does. Whatever tasks need completed, he enthusiastically tackles them.
He owes his new status in the workforce to a combination of positive forces in his life: A workplace readiness program at Rosewood Services, the state’s incentive-based Vocational Rehabilitation program, and the community employer all combine to give him his chance. To get his foot in the door of Bumper To Bumper, Maes participated in a “community job tryout” in mid-May. The tryout is administered by the Department of Children and Family, which grants up to 80 hours of compensation to the participant while he pursues employment possibilities.
Maes didn’t need the full 80 hours. Bumper To Bumper snatched him up quickly, employing the Rosewood Services client in early June.
“We love Jesse and he does a wonderful job for us,” said store manager Angie Zink. “We are happy he is here.”
It was Zink who presented the possibility of a try-out for Maes to her owner when she was asked by Rosewood Services employment specialist Malinda Hatfield to consider Maes as a candidate for a posted job opening. Bringing Maes on board came with challenges. He is deaf and communicates through sign language. Hatfield cleared that workplace hurdle by equipping Maes with a small dry eraser board and a marker. He and his co-workers communicate by writing messages back and forth. However, Bumper To Bumper shop manager Casey Martin has his own method of communicating with his new employee.
“I don’t use the board much,” said Martin. “Jesse and I think on the same wavelength. Each of us seems to know what the other is thinking.
He’s a hard worker, and he is starting to warm up to us. He even jokes with us sometimes, which is great to see.”
When asked via the message board if he likes his job at Bumper To Bumper, Maes gave an animated thumbs-up sign, reinforcing his answer with a hearty smile.
Maes’ employment success story began months earlier with his participation in the workplace readiness classes, a 16-week job training process conducted by Hatfield and other Rosewood Services staff.
Over the years, also, he has honed his skills by working at several Rosewood’s job-training sites. Most recently, he worked at the Rosewood Winery, located north of Pawnee Rock, for more than six months, helping to produce and bottle wine offered for retail sales around the state.
“I like to take our client-employees from the Winery and place them into community employment,” explained Hatfield. “If they are working at a high level there, then there is a great chance they will be successful in the mainstream workforce.”
Sixteen clients currently participate in Rosewood’s workplace readiness program. Many of them are in preparation stage – learning how to properly apply for, accept and maintain a job. Some are in job-search mode, working with Hatfield and the area’s VR program representative to find the right situation for a job. Still others have moved on from the program, having become successfully employed for at least 90 days. Even after that, Rosewood Services stays connected with its clients in the workforce. Hatfield said businesses have been supportive of maintaining that continual relationship.
“The people in business within this community are wonderful people,” said Hatfield. “They have been very kind and generous in participation, giving our clients wonderful opportunities. They in turn know that I am here for support them anytime they need me.”