Three days a week, Steve Deprez, 25, rises early and by 7 a.m., is at his job at Toys “R” Us in York. As part of the morning crew, he gets the store ready for opening, and makes sure the place is spick and span. Among his janitorial duties, Steve does a thorough sweep-through of the store with a dry mop, washes the windows, and dusts the shelves stocked with toys. He tackles his job diligently and with ease. “It’s a good job,” he said. “I like it!”
Ever since he graduated from Central York High School, and then attended the York Learning Center four years ago, Steve, who has autism, has wanted to work. “He wanted the same kind of job somebody without a disability would get,” said his father Tom Deprez, who along with Steve’s mother Theresa Pasko, spent a good deal of time looking for an agency to help Steve find employment.
“We had worked with several other agencies without success. Everything they did was geared toward sheltered workshops,” said Tom. “What was of interest to us was competitive employment for Steve, because he has significant abilities in a lot of areas.”
On the recommendation of a family friend, Steve’s parents contacted Penn-Mar, where they learned of the nonprofit’s Community Employment (CE) program, and were assured the help they were looking for – securing meaningful, rewarding employment for their son out in the community.
Patty Trexler first met Steve when she joined Penn-Mar this past March. By then, Steve was already undergoing the CE program’s Exploration and Discovery process and working with the employment team to identify his skills, preferences, and natural talents. As a Penn-Mar Career Counselor Patty’s main focus is job development – contacting prospective businesses and employers, building relationships, and uncovering job opportunities and customized positions that match an individual’s skills and abilities.
“We want to find the best match for our individuals,” said Patty. “We’re not trying to fill a job opening for an employer as much as we are creating customized positions with the employer based on their needs. The job opportunities are not off the shelf.”
Simply put, Penn-Mar’s customized approach to competitive integrated employment entails, first establishing a relationship with an employer, discovering what job needs the employer has that aren’t being fulfilled, and then matching an individual with those needs, and creating a position for them.
“The employers we work with and coach in placing individuals within their facilities generally find that it’s a very good fit,” noted Patty. “As in any employment situation, the benefit needs to be mutual. We want our individuals to be happy and successful in their jobs, and we want to ensure the needs of our business partners, employers, are being met.”
The relationship Penn-Mar has built with Toys “R” Us is solid. The store is no stranger to hiring individuals with disabilities and has employed several Penn-Mar folks over the past few years. Management at the store is used to the customization approach and job coaching that takes place and worked with Patty to make sure Steve’s transition into the position was smooth.
A quick study, and equipped with a remarkable memory, Steve learned his tasks quickly and easily. Patty and the store’s management customized his position to enable him to get most of his work done prior to the store opening, due in part to his sensitivity to loud noise.
“Steve is always willing to complete his work, which he does independently,” said Patty. “He’s polite, well-mannered and easy to work with. He’s very intelligent and has an incredible memory. You tell him once and he’ll recall it, and he doesn’t need a written list…it’s all in his head.”
“He’s my GPS,” Tom remarked. “His memory never ceases to amaze me. If we’re traveling somewhere, a place we’d visited ten years ago, no matter how complicated the route, Steve will remember exactly how to get there and back.”
Steve keeps himself busy, splitting his time between his parents’ homes. In addition to working, he loves to swim which he does every day at the local Jewish Community Center. He also loves gardening and does most of the yard work – mowing the grass, trimming the shrubs, and planting. He’s an usher at St. Joseph Catholic Church in York, which he attends with his dad, and is very active socially, keeping in touch with friends and family near and far. Steve is also particularly close with his older sister Victoria, who as his mom Theresa says, is a huge blessing to him and to her.
Notwithstanding his many interests and activities, working and earning a wage has made a tremendous difference in Steve’s young life, said Tom, who is grateful to Penn-Mar for giving Steve an opportunity to shine as an individual.
“Having the responsibility and rewards of meaningful employment is an important element in anyone’s life. Steve is happy and his mother and I couldn’t be happier for him.”