Jax Nonprofit Gives Kids With ‘Developmental Differences’ Glimpse Of Work Life

Jun 22, 2018

Jason Hamilton was sitting at his company’s booth surrounded by 21 other business tables Friday afternoon. Hamilton has been working at TIAA Bank, formerly Everbank, sorting mail for about 17 years. 

He had a mock mailroom wall set-up on his table at the Schultz Center.  All the pieces of mail and mailboxes were labeled with fictional characters.

“That’s how we sort mail,” he said, placing an envelope addressed to Captain Marvel, in Captain Marvel’s labeled mail slot. “Look for the name and put it where it goes.”

Hamilton has Down syndrome and he wants the young people like him invited to Friday’s event to learn about his job. 

“To see their faces and to see how I do my job,” he said, “it’s rewarding.”

He said having a job is a big component in becoming independent, both because of experience and the pay. Hamilton is saving up for his own place.

He also said he wants attendees to know they have a choice in their career. He used to work at Publix, but through a job coach got his office job.

"I want to help them find a job [that] they like," Hamilton said.

Friday’s "Job-a-Palooza" event was hosted by the Arc Jacksonville, a nonprofit that provides support and services to individuals with intellectual and developmental differences. The organization uses the term differences instead of disabilities.

Students with differences, ages 14-21, rotated between booths where they tried out different job tasks. For instance at the YMCA table, students folded towels. The tasks were also timed, to make it more fun.

“The idea is let’s expose people at a very, very early age to the concept of work,” said Arc Jacksonville CEO Jim Whittaker.

He said over the past several decades those that use Arc services have been striving to become more independent. He also said that means they’re also using fewer social services.

But Whittaker said he also sees the job event as educational for businesses. Arc Jacksonville works with businesses to rethink job roles and carve out positions for Arc Jacksonville clients, which he said has always been the most difficult component.

“There’s a lot of things businesses could do as far as considering a job,” he said. “Maybe they have a group of employees that are doing something, but it’s time consuming and if they hired one of our folks, those employees then could be redirected to do something else.”

There are also different tax credit opportunities, for businesses that employ people with disabilities. He said some businesses use them, but not all.

“We are often told that when they hire a person with a developmental difference, that what they bring to the company, the morale, it’s a win-win situation,” Whittaker  said.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.