The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

November 8, 2011

Local organization working to help disabled find jobs

JOPLIN, Mo. — For Matthew Crews, a 23-year-old with autism, his full-time job at Signature Granite in Neosho has provided not only a sense of freedom but also the answer to a prayer.

“I thank the Lord for providing this for me,” he said. “I’ve been praying every day. ... It’s a blessing to have the job. I don’t think I’m here by chance.”

Crews started work at the company a little more than a month ago as a granite polisher and member of the cleanup crew. He said he likes all aspects of his job and that he’s learned a lot.

Signature Granite owner Shane Lake, who started the business in 2005, said Crews has been a reliable employee and has a lot to offer. Crews had 160 hours of training before starting his full-time position, Lake said.

“I encourage all owners to look at their company and find some position like this,” Lake said. “It’s good for them, good for us. It has definitely built Matt’s confidence. When he figured out how to polish and make stuff shine, he wants to please a customer.”

Crews found his job with the help of Community Employment Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps match people with disabilities to jobs in the area. It is observing Disability Employment Awareness Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at 515 S. Main St. in Joplin. Representatives from Community Employment, the Missouri Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Social Security Administration and Rehabilitation Services for the Blind will be on hand to answer questions, and provide assistance to people with disabilities and employers who might be looking for workers.

Crews is the first person Lake has hired trough Community Employment, and he said he’s open to the idea of hiring more.

“They do a great job of finding a good fit,” Lake said.

Community Employment, which started in 2000 in Springfield and opened a Joplin office in 2005, now serves six counties: Barry, Barton, Jasper, Lawrence, McDonald and Newton. It has expanded to 12 offices in the state. Jamie Gillmore, program manager, said the organization has placed nearly 160 people in jobs in the past year and has a 90 percent job placement success rate.

The group’s definition of disability is broad, including everything from depression to eating disorders.

“You get that traditional response of someone in a wheelchair or someone who is blind, but there are folks out there with hidden disabilities,” Gillmore said. “You’d never know looking at them that something was wrong.”

Gillmore said seven out of 10 working Americans will acquire some type of disability in their lives.

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