New Castle News

Closer Look

October 29, 2013

On the job: Lark Enterprises program in spotlight during awareness month

NEW CASTLE — At times, Ben Steffler had doubts whether his job at Pizza Joe’s in Portersville would work out.

But his boss, Jason Peffer, never questioned for a minute Steffler’s capabilities.

Steffler, 36, of New Castle is a person with a disability who found a job through a program operated by Lark Enterprises.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which raises awareness about disability employment issues and praises the varied contributions of workers with disabilities.

Or simply put, it’s about celebrating abilities — not disabilities.

Lark implemented the supported employment department in the early 1990s, and works with clients to help them find and keep jobs.

“It’s very important to understand that there must be ongoing maintenance of the job to compete in the workforce,” said Dr. Susan Lautenbacher, chief executive officer of Lark.

Steffler has worked at Pizza Joe’s for nearly four years. His responsibilities include coming in every Tuesday to clean for lunch preparation and unload the delivery truck. He also carries out garbage, sweeps the floor and cleans the ceiling fans.

“I like the employees and owner,” Steffler said. “It makes me feel good doing this. It’s worked out nicely.”

Kris Russell, community-based services unit director and her staff work one on one with clients on the job, guiding them where necessary.

Clients learn such techniques as writing a resume, and filling out applications, Russell said.

“Expectations in the workplace include the concepts of ‘in spite of’ and ‘as well as.’ ”

About 50 clients from Lark are employed in the workforce through the supported employment department. Other clients at Lark who are in house and pre-vocational may develop skills to move through the system and into competitive employment, Lautenbacher explained.

“We always lead with the perception that the client can be employed; ultimately it’s the  client’s decision.”

There also is a good relationship with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, which refers or directs potential clients to Lark, Russell said.

Clients are matched according to their interests and qualifications, acknowledged Deb Leddon, Lark’s administrative services unit director.

“We’re not asking for charity, but rather that someone is hired on merits and given a fair chance to be employed.”

Working in the community definitely builds self esteem, Russell noted, adding that her staff “is out there every day working with clients in the community.”

Susan Marsh is an employment specialist who trained Steffler, has been with him since he started the job and now does occasional spot checks.

“We’re very proud of Ben and what his accomplishments have been,” said Marsh, who also works with about 25 other clients in various workplaces.

“Jason has gone over and beyond in accommodating clients,” she continued.

And Peffer is pleased with Steffler’s performance.

“He’s the most prompt employee I have. And he takes direction well.”

“Because We Are EQUAL to the Task” is this year’s theme and reflects the reality that people with disabilities have the education, training, experience and desire to be successful in the workplace.

“Individuals with disabilities have the same wants and needs as the rest of us,” Russell pointed out.  “We work with anyone who has a recognized disability that gets in the way of finding employment. The type of disability doesn’t matter.”

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)

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