Vocational Rehabilitation works in partnership with the community to help Oregonians with disabilities get and keep a job that matches their skills, interests and abilities.
SALEM — Lee, 30, had never worked in a paid job, but stayed busy because he likes to be active. His family, specifically his father, was concerned that if Lee got a job he would lose access to benefits that help him live independently, including his medical and housing benefits.
In order to help convince Lee and his father that working was feasible, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Cortney Gibson set up a meeting with Jill Hannemann, a Work Incentives Counselor with the Work Incentives Network and Abilitree.
Jill showed Lee and his father multiple scenarios, showing his benefits at 10, 20 and 30 hours per week of working.
“I showed them different scenarios of how much he would take home after taxes so he could make an informed choice,” Jill said, adding that even if Lee worked full-time, he would still retain many of his important benefits.
“It was really important to put his mind to rest about this before he was willing to really explore work.”
Lee’s Personal Agent Katie King added: “Before he went to VR, Lee volunteered a lot because he really wanted to be doing something. Lee really wanted to work and be productive.”
Around this time, Jim Roths, owner of both Dillon’s Grill and Club Pioneer restaurants in Prineville, reached out to Karianne Clark, owner of Central Oregon Employment Solutions. Jim employs several people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at his restaurants, and won an award from the State Rehabilitation Council in May 2019 for commitment to hiring people with disabilities.
Jim told Kari he needed a backup dishwasher for his busy times at Club Pioneer.
“I told her it’s a really physical job,” Jim said. “She said she had someone in mind.”
Enter Lee, who loves riding his bicycle everywhere and staying active. Kari said Lee had taken culinary classes and was interested in working in a kitchen.
“I told her I didn’t want to cook though because I don’t want to mess up someone’s good meal,” Lee said.
Jim said he decided to work side-by-side with Lee doing dishes to see how he worked. Although he started at 10 hours per week, Lee now works up to 30 hours per week.
“I’m making a lot more money now,” Lee said. “It’s helping me to save for my house.”
Lee’s dream is to one day buy his own home. It’s a goal he has had for a while, and he couldn’t quite say why it’s so important to him.
“I just want to,” he said, shrugging and smiling. “Always have.”
Jim Roths of Club Pioneer said he promoted Lee to more hours because of his strong work ethic.
“We thought he was going to be just the backup but almost right away offered him a position,” Jim said. “He’s just been fantastic. I love his attitude. And he loves the work.”
Now Lee is working, earning money and is still connected to all the medical, housing and developmental disability benefits that help him to be independent.
“It is worthwhile to work, and people often don’t realize how much they can work and earn while staying connected to benefits,” Jill Hannemann said.