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Md. Businesses Employing Developmentally Disabled

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WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) — Ask Erin Baldwin why she loves her job at Furnace Hills Coffee Co. in Westminster. She’ll have a bunch of reasons.

She enjoys working with her parents, she’s built a great friendship with a co-worker and she even has her own blend of coffee: Erin’s Breakfast Blend.

That’s not all.

“I like the smell of the coffee,” Erin, 37, said last week, while roasting coffee beans at the business.

Furnace Hills Coffee opened in Westminster last week, and owner Dave Baldwin is hoping to hire a few new employees as business grows. He’s hoping some of the applications are submitted by people with developmental disabilities, like his daughter. Erin has Down syndrome.

Baldwin believes the developmentally disabled are underemployed and more employers should give them an opportunity to work.

“They are an underserved population in our country,” Baldwin said. “They are hard workers, very dependable and it’s important for private businesses to pick up the slack.”

In Carroll, several businesses are giving people with developmental disabilities a chance to work.

Out of the 179 clients at The Arc of Carroll County, 44 clients are employed with pay at 34 different businesses throughout the county, according to Cristin Cellitto, vocational services manager at The Arc. Some businesses include grocery stores, law firms, retail shops, gas stations, schools, construction companies and day cares.

Don Rowe, director of The Arc, said Carroll businesses provide great opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

“All these businesses have a willingness to operate and work together in helping people succeed,” Rowe said. “There’s a real sense of spirit and passion in helping folks with disabilities succeed in the business community.”

Furnace Hills started as an in-home roasting business, but Baldwin recently expanded and opened a shop at 71 W. Main St. Erin has been roasting coffee from home since April 2010.

Last week, Erin was busy roasting several varieties including Bolivian and Costa Rican beans. Her roast, Erin’s Breakfast Blend, is a medium dark roast of blended African and South American coffees.

Lia Moore, vice president of operations, has been training Erin how to roast other types of coffees. When Baldwin is able to hire more employees with developmental disabilities, Moore said she’ll be ready to help train them.

“I never worked with a person that’s developmentally disabled before,” Moore said. “But after I connected with Erin, it became one of my passions.”

The business began only selling roasts to friends and family, but Baldwin is planning to change that. He’s in talks with Whole Foods Market to get his product placed in stores, and he is also hoping to sell his roasts at local farmers markets, he said.

One dollar from every pound sold is donated to an organization that works with the developmentally disabled in Ukraine or in community development in Southeast Asia, Baldwin said. Baldwin chose to donate to the two organizations because his son works in Southeast Asia, and Baldwin visited Ukraine and saw the need among the developmentally disabled there, he said.

Armatha Walter, office manager of Hill and Barnes LLC in Westminster, said the law firm has been employing developmentally disabled people for more than three years.

One of Walter’s current employees, Shannon Smith, 27, has Prader-Willi syndrome, which is a congenital disease marked by decreased mental capacity and muscle tone, among other characteristics.

She’s been at the firm for about three months.

Walter said Smith’s disability doesn’t hinder her performance at all. Smith shreds paper for about 10 employees, and she finishes quickly, Walter said.

“If we run out of work, she sorts files for us,” Walter said. “She’s a multitasker.”

Smith, a client at The Arc, also works a paid job as a receptionist at The Arc from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. She’s been working the front desk for about three years.

Smith said she is glad employers respect her excellent customer service skills.

“I like the paying jobs,” Smith said. “I also like hanging out with friends, and meeting new people at work.”

Though she has two jobs, Smith continues to develop her job skills while seeking another job. She volunteers at a local church, helping plan activities for children.

She is also seeking volunteer opportunities at animal-related businesses, but her dream job is to work at Bath & Body Works. Smith said she loves working in customer service, and she also loves the store’s products.

Jim Fields, owner of Legends Cafe in Westminster, said he’s employed about 20 people with developmental disabilities since he first entered the restaurant business in 1985. Legends opened in Westminster in 2005, and he currently has four employees with developmental disabilities.

“They’re very good, very loyal and very hardworking employees that are happy to come to work,” Fields said. “It may take two or three times as long to train them, but once you get them trained, they’ll never forget it.”

His four employees have jobs ranging from washing dishes, cleaning and setting tables, and doing some prep work for cooking.

One employee has been working for Fields for seven years, one for six years, and two for about a year and half, he said. Fields said not enough people gave those with developmental disabilities a chance, and for him, they’re some of his best employees.

“All they want to do is be normal. They want to work, get a paycheck and be treated like everyone else,” Fields said. “You give them a chance, and they’ll prove themselves.”

___

Information from: Carroll County Times of Westminster, Md., http://www.carrollcounty.com/

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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