The happy garbage man
Zoooom. Ewwwwww. Push. Squish. Sloooow.
Those are the joyful sounds 20-year-old Kwynn Voss makes as he goes about emptying the garbage carts in local parks three mornings a week.
"Kwynn's happy to be here. He's energetic," his supervisor Bill Siers says, adding that he has to hustle to keep up with him. "He's always moving so quick."
Thanks to Central Oregon Employment Solutions, Voss became a part-time Crook County Parks and Recreation District employee on April 30, where he helps dump garbage cans and pick up litter in the parks.
"Kwynn is a working young man who loves his job and happens to experience some barriers," explained Central Oregon Employment Solutions owner Kari Clark. "He experiences a disability, but this doesn't unable him to be a productive member of his community."
For the past four years, Voss has lived on the outskirts of Prineville with his grandparents, Cliff and Wendy Kiser. He finished the Youth Transition Program at Crook County High School this year.
A grant through Vocational Rehabilitation and the Youth Transition Program enabled Voss to have a part-time paid internship with the school district last August through May. As a custodian, he picked up the garbage, emptied garbage and recycling cans, and swept.
"I was brought in as a job coach to help him learn his job and work with him job coaching, and then when it was nearing the end of that internship, we started looking for a job, and we felt that Parks and Rec would be the perfect fit for him," Clark said. "For what he loves to do and his skillset, we just felt it would be a good match, and that's what led to the job development and meeting."
Clark recently came to Central Oregon from Washington, where for 12 years she worked as an employment specialist for people with disabilities. She started Central Oregon Employment Solutions in March and now works with seven individuals in Crook County.
This spring, she met with Parks Supervisor Larry Penington, who is in charge of hiring Parks and Rec staff.
"We had an actual interview – we did an interview process, and that was fun," Penington said.
They decided to sign him up as a volunteer and have him work with Siers, doing the garbage run for a week.
"We all went out, and yeah, we can handle this. This is pretty cool," Penington recalls thinking.
For the first six weeks of his new job, Voss worked Monday and Friday mornings for about three hours. Last week, he added the Wednesday morning trash run to his schedule.
Clark transports him from his home to the Parks and Rec maintenance shop, where he then meets up with his job coach, Kristi Reed, who works for Clark.
"We pick up all the parks," explained Siers, who works in maintenance for Parks and Rec. "We do garbage throughout the parks, so he's helping pick up and unloading the garbage cans, and he's learned to even do the garbage truck, so he picks up, and he runs the lever."
Reed follows the garbage truck in her vehicle, stopping at each park.
"I jump out, and I walk with him and make sure he stays on task and focused, which he does great, so basically, I'm just really getting a lot of exercise trying to keep up with him, and it's awesome," Reed laughed. "If I notice him getting off on something, I'll just get him back in the groove. I love it."
On a recent morning, Voss rode with Siers in the garbage truck. He hopped out when they reached Stryker Park, ran to the garbage cart, emptied a small garbage can inside the bus stop, unlocked the cart, and pulled it to the back of the truck. He then maneuvered the cart onto the lift and pushed the lever.
"Push," Voss said as he pushed the lever that empties the cart. "Ewwww," he said when he smelled the garbage.
His favorite part, Siers said, is pushing the lever to squish the garbage.
"Squish." Voss said. "Loud."
Next, he took a bucket and trash picker and ran onto the grass, happily picking up litter in the park.
His supervisor says Voss basically empties the garbage carts by himself, and he does a great job and has a great attitude.
"It's not like, 'oh, I gotta be here. My parents are making me work,'" Siers says of Voss, adding that he's focused on his routine. "He's ready to do it, and he enjoys it. He's always happy."
Penington said Voss also likes to put the truck into neutral.
"It's a big truck, so we let him pull the air brake. He loves that part," he said.
Reed says she really enjoys her mornings with Voss. After his shift, she transports him back home.
Central Oregon Employment Solutions is funded by two state agencies. Initially, funding comes from Vocational Rehabilitation, and once someone reaches stabilization in their job, the funding is switched to long-term support through the Office of Developmental Disabilities Services.
Clark also works closely with Lutheran Community Service Northwest, which serves as the local County Developmental Disabilities program.
"They are key partners in Kwynn's employment," Clark said of LCSNW. "They hold a contract to fund services to our local community paid by the Office of Developmental Disabilities Services."
Penington says having Voss on board has been a good fit for the district, and they hope to keep him employed year-round.
"It opened a door. When I first heard about it, I didn't really understand how this would work," he said, adding that a state grant will allow three other youth with disabilities to build picnic tables for the district. "It's a feel-good thing."
He complimented Voss' ability to focus.
"If he could do it, he would be working that garbage truck through the whole town," Penington chuckled. "He's very focused. It's been a really neat thing. He's got an infectious smile. He's fun to be around."
Clark agrees that it's a perfect match.
"This job is Kwynn's dream job. He loves what he does and is thrilled every day that he gets to go to work," she said.