BRISTOL — ADEC thanked community leaders who are helping them employ their clients Friday afternoon. For their inaugural ADEC Community Employment Luncheon, ADEC invited 14 employers who have been able to retain ADEC clients as employees for at least a year, though many have been there much longer.

Beth Anne Geyer, for example, has worked at the Pizza Hut Nappanee for 28 years. She folds boxes two days a week.

“Everybody knows Beth Anne,” said former general manager Terry Worsham, who now serves as assistant manager. “Customers love her. She doesn’t wait on them, but she talks to them.”

Another ADEC client, Missy Mast, began her work experiences about 10 years ago. Through ADEC’s community employment program, she worked several jobs for a few weeks at a time to build a resume before finding the perfect job for her at Gaining Grounds Coffee House in Goshen, which is owned by ADEC.

“ADEC helped me with a lot of the important credentials, important things that go along with any job,“ Mast said. “They helped walk me through this and it’s helped me to be a better person on the job and be where I’m at.”

Employment Services Manager Susan Faltynski said clients often don’t have any work experience and don’t even know what kind of jobs are available to them in the community.

“We take them out into the community to let them see what jobs are available to them, at the same time gauging what their skills are, how they best learn, and really get a good feel for them in a way that we’ll have long-term success,” Faltynski said. “We spend a lot of time getting to know a person.”

“It breaks my heart when a client says, ‘I just want to be normal,’” she said. “They see what everyone in their family is doing – they get a job, get money, they buy the things that they want or need. This gets them into the community. It helps them foster friendships and relationships all around and it gives them a full sense of independence while contributing to society.”

Employment specialists help clients with whatever they need to land the perfect job for them, whether it’s finding interview clothes, developing interpersonal relationships or improving skills.

“It’s great when you have that client who thinks they’re never going to get a job and then when they get that job, they’re super excited and they feel like there’s hope,” employment specialist Nicole Rouhselang said.

Around 275 clients are served through ADEC’s community employment program. Nearly 100 employers take part in the program between Elkhart and St. Joseph counties.

“The more we were getting out into the community, the more were were realizing that a lot of employers and the community in general don’t even know that hiring people with disabilities is an option,” Faltynski said.

ADEC hopes to continue hosting annual community employment luncheons to thank employers, commend exemplary clients and teach the rest of the community about the program.

“Our clients have something to offer employers,” ADEC Communications Manager Michelle Sokol said. “They’re hard workers, they’re loyal, they have a great work ethic and the employers that are here today, they’ve discovered that.”

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