On March 1, 2013, Mitch Russell celebrated his one-year anniversary working as a printing machine operator at PDG Printing in Cape Girardeau. For Mitch, it’s hard to imagine that just over a year ago he relocated from Illinois and was going on two years of unemployment. Despite having a strong background in the printing industry, Mitch, like many others, had struggled to find steady employment in the midst of the recession. Unlike many others, however, Mitch is hearing impaired and keeping his Social Security Disability Insurance benefits depended on him finding a steady job.
That’s when Mitch found MERS/Goodwill. Following a counselor’s visit at South East Missouri Alliance for Disability Independence, Inc. (SADI), he was encouraged to see Missouri’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and was recommended to work with a Case Manager with first-hand experience with local employers. Mitch was paired with Julie Casey, Director at MERS/Goodwill’s Cape Girardeau Career Center.
“Mitch arrived to our first appointment in a suit jacket and had a smile on his face which made him instantly likeable,” said Julie. “I saw potential in him from day one. Mitch was so passionate about his past work experience, but he struggled to find and keep steady employment.”
Julie worked with Mitch to find employment and ease the transition back into the workforce. Together, they determined Mitch’s goal was to seek employment at a printing company, but he had not worked in that field for more than ten years.
“While there are only a limited number of printing companies in the area, I knew Mitch’s experience would make him a competitive applicant and his excitement to begin the program indicated to me that he would be an excellent employee.”
Since he had a chronological format to his resume, many employers were missing the fact that Mitch had experience. Julie reworked his resume to highlight this experience so that it would stand out to employers. She then helped send out Mitch’s resume to local printing companies with a letter explaining his impairment along with information about MERS/Goodwill’s Employee Development and Placement program and its Employer Based Training.
Four days after the mailing, Julie received a call from Raymond, the owner of PDQ Quality Printing. He was impressed by Mitch’s resume and experience, and Raymond asked to meet with him the following day. Mitch was thrilled with how quickly he landed an interview. For years, Mitch’s disability had kept him either unemployed or employed in the fast food industry, and for the first time in over a decade, Mitch had an opportunity to work in his industry of choice.
“I couldn’t believe I had my first job interview within a week of working with MERS/Goodwill,” said Mitch. “I was nervous for my meeting because I wanted Raymond to know I was fully capable of becoming a productive employee despite my hearing impairment. Julie scheduled an interpreter to be there with me, which made me feel more confident.”
Julie’s perception of Mitch’s capabilities was on point: Raymond hired Mitch on the spot. Julie arranged to have an interpreter available while Mitch trained and until he was comfortable enough to work independently.
The biggest obstacle came after Mitch started working when his excitement quickly turned to self-doubt. After his first day on the job, Mitch emailed Julie and stated that he was thinking of quitting because he felt the job would be too stressful and aggravated a pain in his back since he was on his feet most of the day. Julie quickly arranged to meet him at PDQ with the interpreter and his boss, Raymond, to discuss his concerns. After speaking with Raymond at length, Julie found that Mitch had done a great job on his first day. They both felt he was probably more panicked about the idea that he was going to be the only press operator; in his past jobs, Mitch had worked in larger facilities that employed more operators. This would be Mitch’s first time working independently without other printing machine operators to share the work stress and responsibilities.
When Julie met with Mitch and his interpreter, he admitted that he was simply feeling overwhelmed at returning to a skilled job after so many years and having the responsibility of an entire department.
“I essentially gave Mitch a much-needed pep talk and reminded him that he was intelligent, and that Raymond and I both had faith that he was able to shoulder the responsibility,” said Julie. “It was clearly what he needed to hear. He was almost immediately relaxed and seemed more confident.”
As far as Mitch’s back pain, Raymond went out that same day and purchased rubber mats for the floors to provide some cushion. Raymond had also mounted a mirror on the wall in front of Mitch’s work space so that if an employee came up behind him, Mitch would be able to see them coming and not be startled due to his hearing impairment. Mitch now has a job he truly loves and gets to work in an environment where his coworkers are friendly and his manager goes above and beyond to accommodate his employees.
It was a case where MERS/Goodwill’s retention services and the thorough follow up after employment was clearly needed in order to help Mitch retain his job and be successful. He needed support and reassurance from someone who believed that he had what it took to do the job well.
Looking back on her experience with helping Mitch, Julie says working with Raymond as an employer was equally inspiring.
“Even after working in this field for over seven years, I still find employers who don’t understand that having a disability does not equate with being an unproductive employee,” said Julie. “Working with Raymond reminds me that for every door one employer might close, there will always be another around the corner who will be holding the door wide open.”