14 Oct LifeROOTS featured in New Mexico Business Weekly
As seen in New Mexico Business Weekly, October 14, 2001
LifeROOTS trains the disabled for jobs
New Mexico Business Weekly by Megan Kamerick, NMBW Senior Reporter Date: Friday, October 14, 2011, 4:00am MDT
The job picture continues to look bleak for many Americans. But for those with disabilities, it’s even worse.
The unemployment rate for New Mexicans with any disability was 19.1 percent in 2009, according to the 2009 American Community Survey.
A new program by an Albuquerque nonprofit is aimed at those who need some of the most basic skills to enter the work force, such as making correct change and interacting with others.
RCI Inc., which changed its name earlier this year to LifeROOTS, kept its mission intact: Helping people with a variety of disabilities reach their highest levels of self-sufficiency.
LifeROOTS’ clients have a huge range of skills, said Kathleen Cates, interim CEO, including software development. The nonprofit also has contracts to provide custodial services. But some people might not want, or be able, to work a full-time job.
Several years ago, LifeROOTS launched a program called Feed Me Now to help its clients gain basic skills. It was so successful, the nonprofit decided to share it with the larger community. Now there’s a growing list of businesses and organizations taking part.
As part of LifeROOTS’ Career Discovery program, the nonprofit purchased a little red cart and stocked it with food and drinks. Once a day, a client makes the rounds of the office accompanied by a job coach, learning how to make change, and practicing customer service skills.
Cates saw an opportunity to expand the service to other offices, which would bring more exposure to LifeROOTS while helping its clients.
“And every office needs access to some beef jerky, so they don’t have to leave for lunch,” she joked.
To date, Yearout Mechanical Inc., Image Concepts, WHPacific Inc. , the Whitener Law Firm and the University of New Mexico Center for Development and Disability have signed up. U.S. Bank is the newest to join and LifeROOTS client Michelle Eckles made her inaugural run there this week, accompanied by job coach Patricia Tafoya and Frank Gaona, who supervises all the job coaches at LifeROOTS.
Although the project started a month ago, Gaona said he has already seen a difference in the nonprofit’s clients.
They tend to engage customers more readily and that’s a big step for a population that’s not very outgoing, he explained. One client was timid initially, but now she regularly chats with customers about her pets, and brings pictures to show the customers, he said.
It’s been good for the wider community to interact with people with disabilities, he added. He has worked in this field for 10 years and said one of the biggest gaps to bridge is with people who don’t have disabilities. They wonder how to communicate with those who do, he said.
“They have pets, they have lives, they have bills. They’re just like us,” Gaona said. “So we’re getting that message out.”
Eckles and Tafoya rolled the bright red cart into U.S. Bank’s break room this week. A small stream of employees began trickling in to check out the bagels, fruit, candy and other snacks.
Tafoya occasionally steps in to help Eckles count out correct change or find a price, but Eckles was clearly comfortable. At 42, she lives in an apartment with a part-time caregiver and also works about four hours each week at a Dollar Tree store.
Donna McKiernan, who oversees the program as part of Career Discovery, also takes clients shopping to stock up on items for the carts. They learn to look for deals and shop competitively among stores.
“They pretty much run the business,” McKiernan said. “They count the money and count the extra. That’s their profit.”
LifeROOTS’ clients are paid minimum wage and the idea is to ensure the service brings in enough to pay for the food, the client and a job coach, Cates said. That’s about $30 for a one-hour stop at a business.
LifeROOTS also sells handmade cards from the cart made by its job center clients in Rio Rancho.
Sandra Pisto, who works in community support with U.S. Bank, said the banking company wanted to extend its reach into the community. The LifeROOTS clients will come to three U.S Bank locations initially, although that could be extended to include other offices.