Township hires NEMROC employees

Barry Nelson, left, is a work coach for four new part-time employees who were hired by Charter Township of Alpena through North Eastern Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center. The new hires will do work such as painting, landscaping and clean-up around the township, which is often forced be be put on the back-burner because of the limited staff the township’s DPW has.

By STEVE SCHULWITZ

News Staff Writer

Shining Stars.

That is how Charter Township of Alpena Supervisor Nathan Skibbe described the four new part-time employees who are now working for the department of public works.

The recently hired workers are disabled and were hired by the township in association with the North Eastern Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center (NEMROC), but on the township’s payroll.

Skibbe said after some communications with NEMROC he proposed the idea of the hires to the board of trustees, which approved the idea and now the township, its residents and the employees are benefiting from the move.

“These guys are accomplishing the tasks that are always on our radar, but with our limited staff are the projects that always fall through the cracks,” Skibbe said. “They have been doing painting, landscaping and cleaning the bi-path. Not only are they helping us, but they are helping the community as a whole and helping to make it the best it can be.”

Skibbe said as far as he knows the township is the only municipality, at least in the area, to hire individuals who have barriers to employment. He said when other local governments see how the well the situation is working in the township they will do the same or something similar.

“It is a wonderful opportunity to help members of our society and our community who need this type of opportunity,” Skibbe said. “I see it as a responsibility or municipalities to give people who unfortunately sometimes overlooked an opportunity for sound job placement. We’re kind of a pilot program and I would love it if other municipalities follow suit. It is a great way for us to shine a light on these people’s abilities and not their disabilities and that is important in helping to break up the stigma about them.”

While the employees are at work there is always a work coach, paid for by NEMROC, who is there to oversee the jobs being done. Tom Karsten said the guys on his crew are always excited to come to work and enjoy what they are doing. He said they also love the camaraderie that is being formed with other township staff.

“The township really stepped up big time for us. They hired our guys as township employees and that is a big deal for us,” Karsten said. “The other employees are being unbelievably good to us. They take time to talk to our fellas and always stop and take time to chat. It is a great experience to see everyone come together and we are becoming a big family.”

Skibbe shared the same sentiment and said the township is also taking steps to help staff become even more comfortable with their new co-workers.

“We’re hosting an internal workshop and hour long training through department of health and human services for disability awareness to teach all of our employees how to interact and be the best co-worker as possible,” Skibbe said. “Things have been going great, but obviously there are restraints for certain individuals, but it has been a good, positive learning experience for all of us and they have done great work.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.