Randi Penenburgh is deep in thought, carefully studying the prices on video games to make sure they match those on the Columbia Best Buy store’s display shelves. She enjoys her job, she said. As for those video games that fill the big box store’s shelves, however, Penenburgh is much more interested in real life competition on the ski slopes, the bocce court or the gym, where she lifts weights.
How active is she? Well, last summer, she won the gold medal in power lifting at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens.
“She’s a jock,” her father, Joel Penenburgh, simply said.
Like many workers, Penenburgh has a variety of interests when she’s not on the job, and uses her days off to train and pursue her love of sports and competition. But what separates her from most workers is a developmental disability.
Years ago, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were sent to sheltered workshops, but that all changed when The Arc of Howard County began its employment program more than 20 years ago. Today, with support from The Arc and from coworkers, Arc clients like Penenburgh are valued members of the local workforce.
More than 120 individuals receive employment services from The Arc. They have jobs in local stores, manufacturing facilities and warehouses. The people supported by the nonprofit have worked in animal care, child care, food demonstration, packaging and landscaping. Some have even started their own businesses.
In the workforce, people with disabilities represent a “wide range of backgrounds, experiences, knowledge, skills and abilities,” according to Arc Director of Employment Services Bonnie Cronin.
When hiring these people, she said, “Employers are tapping into an underutilized pool of workers who are talent-qualified and capable individuals. They’re competent, enthusiastic and loyal,” she said.
In placing individuals, The Arc matches the job with the person’s interests, skills and needs. When a client is hired, a job coach provides support to both the employee and the employer throughout the relationship, from orientation and job training to on-the-job assistance.
“Our staff is well-trained and is always responsive to employer concerns,” Cronin said. “We value the relationships we have with the businesses we work with, and want the relationship to be positive and productive for both the employee and employer.”
Penenburgh’s job coach, Charlie Lewis, thinks Penenburgh and Best Buy are a good match.
“She loves the work,” he said. “She always has smile on her face when I stop by to check in on her. Although she likes to socialize and always has a lot to say, she stays very focused on her job when she is doing a task at work.”
Penenburgh works as a sales associate in the electronic games department on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Thursdays and Fridays, she volunteers at the Evergreens Senior Adult Day Care Facility on Guilford Road in Columbia. She receives employment services and transportation support from The Arc.
At Best Buy, her responsibilities include making sure the prices on video games match the ones on the store’s display shelves and organizing shelf displays.
In addition to having employees who are competent, reliable and loyal, Cronin sees another benefit to hiring people who are disabled. “Companies that hire individuals with disabilities or remove architectural or other barriers may be eligible for tax incentives,” she said.
To learn more about federal tax incentives for hiring individuals with disabilities, call the Mid-Atlantic Americans with Disabilities Act Center at 800-949-4232.
For information about The Arc’s employment program, contact Cronin at 410-730-0638, ext. 247, or firstname.lastname@example.org.