Peoria offers new work program for disabled adults, first in the state

People involved in the program have the opportunity to work Monday and Friday five hours a week. (Photo by Julia Thatcher/Cronkite News)

Jaimie Thompson is a vocal Dallas Cowboys fan. She sports their logo on her sweater as she talks about a city of Peoria program focused on giving opportunities to adults with disabilities.

“Oh I love it here,” she said of the city’s Group Supported Employment program, which was introduced back in August. She is one of seven adults in the program and spends Monday and Friday mornings dusting offices, throwing out trash and performing other cleaning tasks.

Thompson clocks in five hours a week for the program. She’s been with the city’s adult day center for nearly 20 years, but this is her first time working a job.

“I like going to the program to hang out with my friends,” she said.

She earns $8.26 an hour, 21 cents above the state’s minimum wage. Thompson said signing for her first paycheck was exciting and unlike something she’d experienced before.

“It felt a little bit weird,” Thompson said. “I haven’t got a paycheck before.”

The program was created by the city through a contract with the state’s Division of Developmental Disabilities to provide employment opportunities for adults in their community. Paula Considine, recreation supervisor for the city, said this allows the city’s adult day program to stay competitive and offer something the city has never seen before.

“We felt it was necessary for us to expand our services and it seemed like the time was right,” Considine said.

The project funds 10 spots for employees. Considine said the applicant pool comes from adults already enrolled in the city’s adult day program. Applicants must go through a formal application process through the city’s human resources department. Thompson, just like her co-workers, had to submit references, get fingerprinted and complete a background check.

Jobs consist of tossing out trash, cleaning-up office spaces and city property. Considine said the hope for the program is to expand to other departments, like engineering and office organization.

Considine said at no point was a sub-minimum wage considered an option, a common feature in other employment programs for adults with disabilities.

“We came up with what we felt is a fair and equitable pay code, which allowed us to provide an hourly salary that was above minimum wage,” Considine said. “That is very uncommon in the day program employment agencies.”

Considine said the wage can’t waiver too much higher than the decided upon rate, as the city received a limited budget for the project. Social Security funds can also be affected by changes in income.

“It’s kind of a balance there,” Considine said. “But from what we’ve seen from some of the parents, they’d rather have them contributing to the community than receiving social security income.”

Ashley Parsons just began her custodial job with the program in October and said getting paid is her favorite part.

“Because every single time my mom gives me money…I just feel like earning my own,” Parsons said.

The hope is other cities in the valley will follow a similar model, Considine said. The Mesa has reached out to Considine and her team to learn more about the development of the program.

“We’re the first city that has actually taken this step to hire such a large amount of individuals with disability and giving them a fair wage,” Considine said. “Everybody has got a skill.”