NEW SHARON — Deb Robidoux of Farmington dusts off one candy bar after another on a recent Wednesday at the Sandy River Farm Supply store.
It’s one of the jobs she does, said Ellen Crocker, Work First staff, who helps her with the work.
Store owners Larry and Pat Donald acknowledged her work with pay and a Christmas present and stocking. She quickly expressed her delight.
“It’s a good program,” Larry Donald said of the initiative that creates work for clients of Work First. He said Robidoux has worked an hour there each Wednesday for nearly 15 years.
Donald said he was contacted by Work First shortly after he first bought the store in 1998. Robidoux continued to work after he sold it in 2006 and since he repurchased it in March 2012.
Most weeks, she takes items off the shelf, cleans and replaces them, Crocker said. Robidoux is deaf and uses sign language.
Before heading for New Sharon, she works at Work First’s thrift shop, Touch of Class, on the Wilton Road. She leaves the New Sharon store to go to work at Touch of Class Two on Broadway, Crocker said. She prepares items to go out on the shelves and hangs blouses.
“She likes the money,” Crocker said. “No, she loves to work and loves to help.”
The two have worked together for many years. They share a quick sign that Robidoux wants to do it herself.
“She’s very independent,” Crocker said. “I’ve learned a lot from her. A lot about life in general and enjoying what we have.”
The Work First program has provided services and helped adults with intellectual disabilities find employment for 41 years. It was incorporated in 1973, Executive Director Linda LaRue Keniston said.
The program looks for employment opportunities in the community for clients. Administrators opened three thrift shops, two in Farmington and one in Jay, to supplement that work.
“The mission of the thrift shop is to employ people. It’s not about making money,” she said. “The only mission is to employ people with intellectual disabilities.”
With 69 individuals receiving Work First services, 38 are in the work program. Some work just an hour or two. Most do a combination of community work and thrift shop work, she said.
“The community has been really kind, so receptive and willing to give people a chance. Even just a few hours (of work) makes such a difference in their lives,” LaRue Keniston said.
The businesses in the community pay the worker as does the thrift shop, she said.
Each year a team that includes family and guardians, the person and staff make an annual plan for the person according to their interests and what issues they need or want to work on. Plans can include some basic needs, behavior issues or personal needs.
The plans usually involve work and getting the person into the rhythm of the adult world, getting up and going to work. It is something they can look forward to. That’s why it’s called Work First, she added.
A community program allows them to work on things such as social skills or maybe good eating habits, whatever is in their plan.