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Essential workers with disabilities continue on the job despite risks

  • Garrett Shows bags groceries at Shaw's in Peterborough on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Garrett Shows bags groceries at Shaw's in Peterborough on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Garrett Shows returns baskets at Shaw's in Peterborough on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/11/2020 3:23:52 PM

The goal of Monadnock Developmental Services is to provide individuals with developmental and related disabilities the means to live as independently as possible in their own community.

And one of the biggest pieces of that independence is the ability to work. When businesses began closing their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, many workers across the region were put out of work and forced to file unemployment. But employees who work in essential businesses remain, and that includes a number of MDS clients.

“Whether or not you have a disability, we all want to have a purpose. Work gives us purpose and an identity. A reason to get up in the morning and be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Sheila Mahon, director of Monadnock Center for Successful Transitions at MDS. “These individuals are all very aware of that, especially now. They wanted to work, they knew what they needed to do to be safe and they wanted to serve others.”

Ethan Dietsch-Kennedy has worked at Ocean State Job Lot in Peterborough for more than five years as a stock clerk, using a planogram to organize and stock the birdseed and trash bags, while also stocking other products.

While many have been fearful working in essential jobs, Dietsch-Kennedy is just glad to be working. He has support at work with his job coach Nicole Patterson and enjoys being at work and getting to see people.

“I’ve been there close to 6 years, it’s what I do to keep me going,” Dietsch-Kennedy said.

On the job, Dietsch-Kennedy wears a mask and gloves, and uses hand sanitizer and keeps a cart with him “that helps to keep some distance with people,” he said. Although some places in the store are harder than others to promote social distancing.

Working has a special meaning for Dietsch-Kennedy, especially these days with no Special Olympics and his gym closed down.

“Work is the only thing I can do right now,” he said.

Bryan LaCroix has worked at Hannaford in Rindge since last May in sanitary maintenance, making sure the store is clean and sanitized, collecting cardboard from aisles, cleaning bathrooms/breakroom, sanitizing all the baskets at the end of the day and stocking or front end bagging if needed. And it all comes with some concern.

“Since I am maintenance, I feel like I am more exposed. That is something that does worry me,” LaCroix said.

But for LaCroix, he felt it was important to keep working.

“Even though my job is very stressful, I still love what I do. I love the job title I have,” he said. “I like the people I work with and one of the reasons why I am also coming in is I have rent. I have bills to pay and I need the money to live.”

LaCroix said that as an essential business employee, he felt it was necessary to do his part and keep from adding another person to unemployment rate.

He wears masks on the job and gloves when taking out the trash, and always has sanitizer on him when possible because social distancing can be challenging with people flocking to grocery stores.

“Recently the store I work at has been pretty packed… I try to do social distancing as much as possible but it’s hard because there are so many people,” LaCroix said.

For Mahon, she is so proud of her essential workers who continue to show up shift after shift.

“They have a job, they’re needed and they’re the ones showing up to work,” Mahon said. “Hopefully this can change the perception of what [individuals with developmental disabilities] can and cannot do.”

Garrett Shows has been at Shaw’s in Peterborough for more than four years with his current duties including bagging groceries. He said he feels safe when at work with masks and gloves, sanitizing his hands between customers and is constantly washing his hands.

Like Dietsch-Kennedy and LaCroix, Garrett felt it was important to keep working during this time.

“I’m a positive guy. I am not going to let the virus stop me. I want to be independent and financially stable, so I keep moving forward,” he said.

Garrett’s mother Arlene Shows said it was a family discussion on whether or not Garrett would continue to work. Some people questioned them on their decision but Garrett is healthy, wants to work and can work so there was no reason not to continue to work. He has goals for himself and work is part of that.

Garrett said this is his opportunity to give back to my community.

“I am just trying to do my job, doing what needs to be done and grateful that I have a job,” he said.

When Garrett gets home, he takes a shower right away and puts his clothes in the washer, because keeping six feet away from others on the job is difficult.

“I don’t have a choice. I stay as far back as I can when I am bagging groceries. We have lines to show people where to stand. Sometimes we need to remind them,” he said.

Garrett said the stay-at-home order has led to him exercising more and learning how to cook. But it can be difficult.

“I miss my friends. Work has helped to make this easier – it feels emotionally healthy to see people and customers,” Garrett said.

Arlene said there is something about seeing people doing “normal things” that is comforting.

“Shaw’s has been good to their employees. Hopefully people have more respect for the front line workers after this. That it’s not just individuals like Garrett but everyone who is out there from the staff at the gas station to the bank, to the grocery store employee – anyone who is keeping our economy running right now,” she said.

Brandon Chase has been in the Cheshire Medical Center laundry department for almost two years, where he runs the washers and dryers, a large iron machine to dry and fold sheets, towels and blankets, and hand folding johnnies and bags.

Due to the pandemic and hospital policies, Chase no longer makes deliveries to hospital departments and now stay in the laundry department during his shifts, which come with a whole new set of protocols.

“I feel safe working at the hospital. The hospital has us wearing masks and gloves all the time. We also have to go into work using a certain entrance at the back of the hospital. They only have a few entrances open. They check my temperature every day. I am also asked if I have a cough or am having shortness of breath,” Chase said. “I feel that the hospital is doing a good job protecting their employees.”

There was a time when Chase thought about not working, but after a conversation with family and his supervisor, Chase determined it was important to continue his duties.

“I like getting my paycheck,” Chase said. “I also feel good helping out during this time. The laundry department is important to the hospital. They need clean towels, blankets, johnnies and sheets all the time.”

When he gets home, Chase said he takes a shower and puts on new clothing. And personally the pandemic has been difficult.

“It has been hard on me to not see my friends. I usually text or video call my friends,” he said.

But at work, he feels at ease when he walks in the door.

“Because I work in a hospital and they are protecting employees, I feel like I am safe,” Chase said. “It is so different not having as many people around. It feels like a ghost town. I look forward to having everyone back at the hospital.”

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