Gresham business helps student develop job skills
When Sandy River Marketing owner Don Davore brought on Kevin Sosa, a 15-year-old Reynold Community Transition Program student, he had a few reservations.
Though after a short time with Sosa, Davore and his entire staff couldn't imagine a workday without the young worker on their team.
Sosa is part of the Reynolds Community Transition Program (CTP), which serves Reynolds School District students with disabilities ages 18 to 21. The program helps those students develop independence in whatever form that takes, from getting a job to learning how to live by themselves.
Davore was unaware of the program when he started his business. He opened Sandy River Marketing in 2005 and focused the business on making promotional products like T-shirts or products adorned with team names, company logos or schools on them.
It was a chance encounter at a West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce meeting, where Davore learned about the program and was asked if he would be interested in hosting a student in an in apprenticeship position.
"I went to our associates, and everyone agreed that it was worth the opportunity." Davore said. "We all agreed that if we can do one good thing for this person then we should make every effort to do it."
Bringing Kevin aboard
Davore said the goal was to treat this opportunity just like any other hiring process and if Kevin was not working out for any reason-or-another the team could terminate them.
"This is just a partnership that was created by out of luck and timing," said Naomi Bledsoe, a Reynolds Youth Transition Specialist. "We work with them inside the school and when they are ready to be competitive in the market, we put them out into the community and see if these partnerships work."
Despite the initial positivity in bringing Sosa aboard and the option to cut him loose if things didn't go well, Davore still held some reservations. Bringing in such an unproven and unknown person caused some concern, along with the potential for extra work and training that might have to be done by his staff to accommodate the new employee.
"We were all a little apprehensive because we didn't know what to expect," Davore said. "But when Kevin showed we just knew it was going to be life changing."
Davore said his preconceived ideas of having Sosa on the team were smashed. Davore describes Sosa as a hard worker, arriving each day ready to help where he could.
Sosa started his three month apprenticeship at the shop in June and worked part time from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. two times a week. "Training-wise, we already knew we would be slowed down with our production," said Salvador Cano, the foreman at the shop who led Sosa's orientation. "We just had to simplify things a little bit, just made sure he was focused on that one task."
Even with the slower pace, Davore said it wasn't too different from any other orientation. "There was never a job that Kevin didn't want to do," Davore said. "We did an orientation, as we would another associate, and the biggest thing that we learned from that was that we didn't need to train Kevin that much differently."
During his stay at Sandy River Marketing, Sosa learned a lot of different jobs including cleaning T-shirt screen printers, trimming thread on garments and all sorts of other tasks that Davore said really helped the shop.
Although Sosa exceeded Davore's expectation, the owner said it was Sosa's attitude that made a valuable part of the team of six. Davore said Sosa brought kindness and fun to the job, brightening the day for everyone.
For Sosa, it was an experience he said he won't forget. "It was a great time," Sosa said proudly. "I learned about everything here."
Giving people a chance
Bledsoe said that these opportunities to have CTP students work at an actual business help them improve soft skills and other skills that will help them with future employment. "It is hard for us (at the Community Transition Program) to teach students what it is like to work in a business," Bledsoe said. "People with disabilities should and need a chance to work."
Davore hopes that other businesses in the area take the chance to help local students with disabilities reach their full potential. "When someone comes in and applies, I hope people consider that person as a valuable asset to your company," Davore said. "In the end they might not be that, but you can possibly look at the world in a different way and the best thing you can do is give somebody a chance. For other businesses, you know you might not get our experience, but it is worth it."
Bledsoe hopes that more businesses take inspiration from Davore and the Sosa's experiences.
"You see (like in Kevin's story) that being a part of this program changes how people see people with disabilities and the fact they are motivated and can work," Bledsoe said. "Statistics show that people with disabilities have a higher retention rate at their job then the average. So, we are talking about a very dedicated and devoted employee in the future."
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