A Year's Work

Zak’s employment story begins with his mother. It’s the part that tries to go unseen, wants no recognition, but works day and night around the clock to build a life, against all odds and doubts, for her son.

With a national unemployment rate of 83% for people with developmental disabilities, people such as Zak have a challenge that goes beyond your basic job hunt. It requires a ton of working parts, each in symbiosis with the other. It takes big thinking, creativity, and resilience. In Zak’s case, it takes a mother.

“I knew I would have to be the one to advocate for him from the time he was born,” she said. “No one else was going to do it for me.”

For months, Zak and his mom sought out job openings, looking for the right fit. He would fill out every application as she guided him through the questions and they would make inquiries to potential employers. Then, when they found the right fit, she put the rest in order, securing the interview, contacting Starfire to put job supports in place, and setting up transportation to make sure Zak could get to and from work.

The result was Zak starting his job last August, where he works three days a week at the Dunham Recreation Center, close by where he lives. There he works in tandem with Tom, the main maintenance staff, and together they make sure the facility is in good working order.

“It’s a win-win. What we get is a good solid worker, and he fills the gaps where we need it. He takes certain things off the main maintenance guy’s plate, which takes some of the strain off,” said Jim, Zak’s employer. “Zak has jumped right in. He’s important. We feel he’s important.”

When Zak started his job, Andrew, a staff from Starfire was there to train him. He showed him how to flow through each task, encouraged him to keep working to the end of his shift, and provided a balance for the employer starting off. Gradually he eased himself out of the role, and Zak took the reigns. But one piece to this training that Starfire does uniquely is building relationships with co-workers. He helped make sure Zak invited each of them to his birthday party, and in turn his co-workers have reciprocated invitations.

Almost a year later, Zak says he loves his job. This of course is a really important piece to employment.

“They gave me my paycheck, I opened it up, and I had a grin on my face,” he said about getting his first paycheck. “It’s a neat place to work. It’s changed my life.”

katie bachmeyer