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Cultivating Pride : Developmentally Disabled Workers Develop Skills, Self-Esteem as Landscapers

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The job calls for mowing, trimming and fertilizing the grounds of 11 fast-food restaurants scattered around Ventura County.

It’s hard work, but the rewards are well worth it. Two members of the three-person landscaping crew are developmentally disabled and their new job gives them a chance to build self-esteem and earn some cash at the same time, said Fred W. Robinson, executive director of the Assn. for Retarded Citizens-Ventura County.

Trained by ARC, the crew is among about 100 developmentally disabled residents who are learning job skills and working in landscaping, retail and restaurants.

“This gives them a sense of accomplishment,” Robinson said. “Over the years, the biggest change I’ve seen is seeing people with disabilities in the community as part of day-to-day activities. They’ve gone from institutionalization and confinement to inclusion, participation and productivity.”

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Preciliano Palomares, 32, said he appreciates the chance to work, especially in the outdoors.

“It would be hard without ARC,” said Palomares, a mildly developmentally disabled man who lives with his parents in Oxnard. “I’m not a good reader or writer.”

Palomares and his two co-workers--including one non-disabled crew leader--mowed, trimmed, weeded and fertilized lawns and shrubs at six Carl’s Jr. restaurants Monday and will continue today at five more fast-food establishments around the county.

“If they can meet the job description, it doesn’t matter if they’re disabled or not,” said Suzi Brown, a Carl Karcher Enterprises spokeswoman. “ARC bid on the district landscaping competitively and got the job. Carl’s Jr. has a history of hiring disabled people.”

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Operating like a business, the ARC landscaping crew won the Carl’s Jr. contract through open, competitive bidding. An ARC janitorial program has also won bids to clean office complexes. The ARC workers are paid minimum wage or better.

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Since January, ARC has also been in charge of landscaping 200 acres of the Channel Islands Air National Guard station. Seven developmentally disabled people work in this program.

“I think it’s important that people realize that disabled people can work in the economy like everybody else,” said Craig Seeley, ARC’s community employment director. “They have a lot of pride in what they do. It’s good for their self-esteem, and they need to know they do a good job.”

ARC’s jobs program is aimed at preparing the workers for employment in the community. About 100 of ARC’s 700 clients participate in job training for janitorial, retail and landscaping employment.

“This gives people a chance to make some money, which they desperately need to do,” Robinson said. “It also helps to overcome public attitudes by showing that they can be productive citizens.”

For 41 years, ARC, a nonprofit social-services agency, has been helping developmentally disabled residents of Ventura County be as self-supporting as possible.


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