Employment First Helps People Build ‘Social Capital’

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Working at their jobs on a regular basis, Pat Jobb and Yvette Gray have refused to be told, “you can’t do it.”

Participating in the Belmont-Harrison-Noble County Boards of Developmental Disabilities “Employment First” program, Jobb and Gray work at Wal-Mart and Mehlman’s Cafeteria, respectively.

“If you want to be independent, you’ve got to work,” Jobb said, during a recent recognition ceremony featuring U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson and St. Clairsville Wal-Mart General Manager Dean Holtsclaw.

Jobb, who has worked at Wal-Mart for three years, said a good job means people can do and have the things they want in life.

Working at Mehlman’s Cafeteria for about 13 years, Gray is determined to be productive.

“You can be anything you want to be – just don’t let anybody sit you out,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, and Ohio Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, acknowledged the efforts of Jobb and Gray – as well as to their employers. In addition to Wal-Mart and Mehlman’s, other organizations recognized for hiring workers with disabilities are St. Clair Lanes, Burger King and the New Horizon Animal Hospital.

Steve Williams, superintendent of the disabilities boards, and his staff are emphasizing the Employment First initiative that they believe will allow those diagnosed with disabilities to explore their dreams.

“We should not have a preconceived notion that having a developmental disability means you cannot work,” Williams said. “Our success is to see these folks be included in their communities – removing the barriers.”

According to the agency, Employment First is a concept to help those with the most significant disabilities integrate themselves into the workforce. The program promotes the idea that a job helps people build “social capital” – the trusting relationships that result in support for one another.

The agency that served roughly 500 people during 2012 is not directly affiliated with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Each county in Ohio is responsible for having a board to address disabilities. Roughly 66 percent of the organization’s $8.6 million 2012 budget consists of locally generated tax dollars.

Williams said those diagnosed with disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries and other conditions should have every chance to succeed – rather than be relegated to a life in isolation.