Disabled adults fill chamber’s business needs

  • By John Wolcott HBJ Freelance Writer
  • Monday, September 17, 2012 4:17pm

SMOKEY POINT — Volunteers from Village Community Services in Arlington are helping the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce with filing papers, assisting at booth events for the city’s Fourth of July parade, putting members’ business cards on the hallway walls and other office needs that save chamber staff many hours of work each week.

For several years, the chambers’ partnership with VCS has benefited both VCS volunteers and the chamber, said managing director Mary Jane Harmon.

“They clean closets, shred papers, alphabetize brochures and a variety of other things we need help with,” said Harmon. “Plus, they’re just so nice to have around. They brighten my day.”

For many years, the mission of VCS has been to support adults with disabilities in achieving their personal potential at home, work and in the community. The nonprofit agency focuses on making a positive difference in people’s lives despite their limitations, helping them with respect and dignity to achieve their rights to belong in society, to be valued, to make informed choices and to recognize their abilities and competencies.

Some VCS clients have held jobs at Safeway and earned promotions. Others work in a variety of roles, such as the ones who work one day a week at the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber office on 172nd Street NE, adjacent to the Arlington Walmart.

“Jeffrey Winemiller, for example, takes our trash bags to the dumpster, hangs framed pictures around the office and loves to help with other needs,” Harmon said. “Recently, he helped landscapers clear weeds around the building.”

He lives in a group home and rides the bus to and from the chamber offices, she said. The staff recently discovered how much he enjoys the time-consuming job of shredding papers, so that’s been added to his work.

Kristen Reece, who lives at home with her parents, “is like sunshine coming in the door,” Harmon said. “She smiles and laughs a lot while she works and loves to give hugs. She and Jeffrey are both a great help to us. They really touch your heart.”

As job coaches, Megan Ramsey and Lindsay Baltus from VCS monitor the volunteers during their work time and train the volunteers with new skills as needs arise.

“If more businesses knew what these volunteers do — and what it does for you when you work with them — there’d be more places for them to work,” Harmon said. “Some are even able to work up to paid jobs in different businesses.”

Kris Mecko, manager of the vocational services program, pays occasional visits to businesses to see how volunteers are progressing and to talk to businesses interested in using volunteers or putting existing volunteers in paid positions.

“We help people learn their jobs and help businesses learn the value of having our volunteers helping them in their business,” Mecko said. “We have 115 people at all different levels. Some are volunteers, with their job coaches, others are being assessed to see if they can fill a paid position.”

VCS works extensively with state-funded programs through the Department of Social and Health Services, the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Northern Intertribal Vocational Rehabilitation, local school districts and Snohomish County Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities.

Try a volunteer

For more information on Village Community Services’ offerings, go to www.villagecommunitysvcs.org or call 360-653-7752.