Making a postive impact in the community
By Heather Scarano, Special to The Press
Posted: Tuesday, October 28, 2008 2:10 pm
Sammie Nash is serious and soft-spoken, Danny Suratt is cheerful and outgoing. Nash’s main responsibility is refilling the drink machines. Suratt’s central duty is washing dishes. The two men are different in many ways, but for the last 12 years both have found friendship and fulfillment in their work with Sodexo at the University of Tennessee at Martin’s cafeteria.
Suratt, 61, and Nash, 49, have something else in common, too – both have cognitive disabilities.
“Once an overlooked talent pool, people with disabilities are contributing to the American economy in ways never imagined,” says Sandy Stevens, director of vocational services for Community Developmental Services in Martin.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Congress established NDEAM in 1988 to increase awareness about the contributions and skills of American workers with disabilities.
Suratt and Nash are excellent examples of people with disabilities making a positive impact in their communities, says Stevens.
“What we try to do every time we match our people with new jobs is to help potential employers see the abilities of our clients, not the disabilities. UT Martin and Sodexo have been very accepting and Danny and Sammie have had much success in their jobs.”
Suratt lives alone in an apartment on Moody Avenue in Martin. Nash lives in a house on Willow Lane that he owns with two other CDS clients.
They are just two of approximately 45 individuals with developmental disabilities – 30 in Weakley County – who are working in competitive employment in the community with the help and support of CDS, a nonprofit organization caring for adults in Weakley, Obion, Henry, Carroll and Lake Counties.
CDS client Joyce Miles is coming up on her 11-year anniversary in her job at Fechheimer, also known as Martin Manufacturing. Miles works full-time as a quality assurance inspector and supports her husband, James, who is retired. Miles, 59, was shocked to learn two months ago that the plant would be closing and she, along with approximately 150 of her coworkers, would be losing their jobs.
“I feel hurt and mad because, there goes my support at home, paying bills and stuff like that, and having friends out there, too. Probably won’t never see them again,” says Miles.
Miles and her husband own their own home on Parrish Street in Martin. But Miles’ job is more than just a way to pay her mortgage.
As someone who is developmentally disabled, her job means independence and a sense of normalcy.
“It means I don’t have to depend on anybody for anything,” says Miles. “I can live a normal life, just like everybody else.”
That independence, along with a steady income, is now threatened. Miles doesn’t know what she’s going to do in a few weeks when she’s without work. And she says she’s nervous because, in this sluggish economy, she fears she might be at a disadvantage because of her disability.
“Joyce has worked a long time, and even though she could retire, she wants to continue to have a job. She could just say, ‘ok, I’m done,’ but she’s motivated to work. I think that’s what makes her such an impressive candidate,” says Stevens.
Suratt, who works about 35 hours per week at the cafeteria, has a different opinion about retirement. “I’m fixing to retire in May,” he says with a big smile.
When asked about his retirement plans, he simply says, ”Take it easy.”
Nash works full-time at the cafeteria and loves his job with Sodexo. When asked what his favorite part about working is, he says without hesitation, “About the whole thing.”
Nash, Suratt and Miles work for different reasons and find satisfaction in different tasks, but all three contribute to the community in meaningful ways – from cleaning tables in the cafeteria to inspecting hems and buttons at Fecheimer.
“Our individuals bring value to the workplace. They don’t know it,” says Stevens, “but deep down they can sense it.”
CDS client Sammie Nash on the job at Sodexho