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November 13th, 2019

mosaic presentationRepresentatives from Mosaic and USD 480 gather for a photo after Mosaic presents the district with a certificate of praise for the partnership between the two entities. L&T photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


It’s shortly before 11 a.m. and USD 480 employee Jesus Martinez is already ready to get things prepared for the day’s lunch at Sunflower Elementary School. 

Martinez, who is a client at Liberal’s Mosaic, has been working for the school since January and is part of the effort to expand the partnership between USD 480 and Mosaic. 

“When I started with the district nine years ago, we had a pair of brothers who worked with us and then there came a family crisis and they didn't work with us anymore,” USD 480 Food Services Director Connie Vogts said. “It had been a while since we'd had anyone else working in the food services. I know Jesus started with us this year and this year was really a rekindling of that partnership. One benefit for my department is there aren't a lot of people who want a part-time job, most people looking for work want something full time, so it's a blessing for us when we have someone like Jesus who wants to come in and work two or three hours every day, because those types of positions are really hard to fill. Every individual needs a purpose in life, and it's awesome how we can help the clients at Mosaic find that.”

“And we're also stepping everything up a notch and we'll be having people from Mosaic working every day throughout the summer working split shifts,” USD 480 Human Resources Supervisor Kristyn Reust said. 

Mosaic staff is also excited about the partnership. 

“Since I'm the employment specialist with Mosaic, this is really groundbreaking for us,” Mosaic Employment Specialist Ed Ridgeway said. “The effects we've seen have been dramatic, and I know the changes I've seen Jesus go through, it's almost a miracle because for him, it's not just about employment, it's about being able to something for society and do something he feels good about, it's brought about dramatic changes all the way around. I really do want to thank USD 480 for the opportunity it's given us, we greatly appreciate it. We have so many clients who are waiting for the opportunity to do something, all they need is that opportunity. And when that happens and they do become employed, it seems to be a win-win situation for both the employer and employee and Mosaic. Our clients are capable of doing so many things, they just need the opportunity from the community.”

“And to add to that, they're doing the exact same application process as any other employee would – they're filling out the application, they're going through the background checks and interview process and training,” Reust added. “So they're doing everything they would be doing if they would be applying at any other job. And it's great because they'll have those experiences from doing all of that since they've gone through it all and we're making it as real as possible.”

Martinez is shy and does not talk a lot, but he said he enjoys what he does at the school. 

“I wash the silverware, the plates and help put everything away and then I help the ladies with any other help they might need,” Martinez said. “ I like working with my co-workers. I also like seeing all the little kids, they're always excited at lunchtime.”

And since gaining employment with the district, Ridgeway and Mosaic Program Manager Kendra Henderson said Martinez has grown in leaps and bounds. 

“This experience has touched every part of his life, he has made some  dramatic improvements I don't know if even a psychologist would understand,” Ridgeway said. 

“When I started working with Jesus, he didn't want to be touched, he didn't like germs, so to see him washing dishes after people have been eating off of them and the silverware, that's such huge growth for him, and we at Mosaic are so proud of him because he's grown tremendously with this job,” Henderson added. “So to see him ready to go work and be here early every day, we're very proud of him because he has been able to grow and get those skills while also having a job.”

Ridgeway and Reust said there are several other benefits to the partnership, and both said they expect the partnership to expand in the years to come. 

“I would say a lot of it is about awareness. Many people, when they think about employees with intellectual disabilities, they immediately shut the door,” Ridgeway said. “So the awareness is something we'd really like to recognize because the potential is there. We have people sitting on the sidelines of life and just waiting for the opportunity. The more awareness we get out there and the more recognition from the community we get, we're hoping more businesses will see this as a possibility as far as employment. We try to get our clients involved in employment opportunities and volunteer opportunities and take a look at their life and what they could be interested in. The awareness is a big thing.”

“And to add to that, my hope for this would be for other businesses in the community would see USD 480 as a model for taking this on and then thinking 'This is something we could do – if USD 480's doing it, why couldn't we?'” Reust added. “And with USD 480 being as big as it is and providing these types of opportunities, I hope that will inspire other business leaders to take the initiative. Right now, we've got a good start. We've got some amazing people starting in the program and we've got amazing leaders helping them and guiding them through the process. And we're going to have more people working for us during the summer, so my vision for this partnership is to see it explode. They're getting the training they need and their supervisors are great. It's really a matter of getting them that training, and I feel like this will be the start of a trend where we can bring these people in and help more and more.”

Reust added USD 480 is grateful for the work put in by the Mosaic staff to make this partnership happen. 

“I know Mr. Ridgeway said earlier Mosaic is so grateful to us for this, but we're just as grateful to Mosaic throughout the process and all the work that staff has put in,” Reust said. “We've been in constant contact with them about schedules and their clients they feel would work great and all of that. We're equally grateful to them for all the work they put in to help these individuals and the community.”

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