MARYSVILLE — Ryan Outsen made perfect mounds of frozen yogurt toppings as he refilled bins between customers.
He used a black scoop to place each brownie bite and peanut butter cup carefully, and corralled bright, round blueberries into their container.
Then he cleaned up around the counters. He wiped down the backs of bins filled with nuts, candies and sprinkles.
Outsen, 21, has a routine in his twice-weekly job at The Creamery Co., off State Street. The quiet, lanky young man has an eye for detail and takes business owner Rickelle Pegrum’s requests to heart.
Outsen also lives with autism. The Marysville Pilchuck High School grad started learning job skills at The Creamery Co. as a student, and Pegrum later hired him.
He’s now one of three workers with disabilities at The Creamery Co. The frozen yogurt and coffee shop is on a list of nearly 30 employers in Marysville recognized by the city’s Inclusive Workplace Partners Program, started last year. It’s the brainchild of a volunteer city advisory committee tasked with finding opportunities for people with disabilities.
“It’s a perfect match,” Pegrum said. “Nothing here is too demanding. It’s repetitious, and that works for their ability level. I get more out of this than they do.”
Jim Strickland, who teaches life skills at Marysville Pilchuck, helped start the inclusive workplace program. Businesses that offer jobs or training for workers with disabilities are added to a list that helps match them with prospective employees.
They receive a certificate from the mayor and an “IWPP” window sticker so customers know they are part of the program.
Prior to IWPP, there were a number of businesses that worked with the state, schools or nonprofits to teach or hire people with special needs. The city program offers recognition and maintains a list of local job opportunities, Strickland said.
Signing up doesn’t obligate a business owner to hire someone, he said. It means they are willing to try. Sometimes, a worker isn’t a good fit. The workplace can be overwhelming for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
One employee works three hours a week at McDonald’s, and that’s the limit. But those three hours make a difference, Strickland said.
“A job isn’t just about money,” Strickland said. “Think of when we introduce ourselves and we ask, ‘What do you do?’ A large part of our identity is our job.”
Eventually, he’d like to see every Marysville business signed up for IWPP. He thinks it could expand to other cities.
Several teens volunteer with life skills students during the school year and are helping promote IWPP.
Martin Steiner, 17, said his classmates who have disabilities seem more motivated to succeed in their tasks than their peers.
“I’ve never seen people more happy to work,” he said.
They always have a big smile and a hug, said McKenna Dahl, 17.
That carries over into customer service, Pegrum said. Her workers bring joy to the shop.
Some aspects of disabilities can be an asset, Strickland said. Many of his students and former students enjoy repetition and can focus like a laser on one task at a time.
It’s rewarding to watch an employee with a disability gain confidence and become part of a team, Pegrum said. She thinks it’s something every business owner should experience.
She remembers the first time Outsen was in her shop as a student. It was too much for him. He stood toward the back of the room, in tears.
Not long ago, Pegrum was in the shop when a customer asked Outsen a question. She was ready to intervene, knowing he is generally uncomfortable answering strangers. But he came out from behind the counter and showed the customer how to use the frozen yogurt machines, giving the welcome he’d seen his boss deliver countless times.
Pegrum stood toward the back of the room, in tears.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the Inclusive Workplace Partners Program, or to sign up, email Leah Tocco, ltocco@ marysvillewa.gov.