- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) - Alex Graysay, 33, used to keep to himself. The Peters Township resident was quiet and didn’t interact much with the people in his life.

After working for a couple of local businesses, Graysay’s entire demeanor changed. He talks more and has even been known to burst into song and dance.

In September, Graysay was confident enough to testify before the state House of Representatives in Harrisburg, where he proudly told those in attendance that he purchased the suit he was wearing with money earned at his job.

Aaron Wrubleski, director of employment services for Arc Human Services, has witnessed the confidence boost of many clients as a result of their work through the community employment program.

“Our guys take a lot of pride in the jobs they do,” Wrubleski said. “They realize they’re valuable, which is the point.”

Wrubleski helps coordinate the community employment program through which Arc clients, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental illness, train and are employed by area businesses.

“We formed relationship with businesses,” said Wrubleski. “When we started, it was, ‘Can you help our guys?’ Now, employers are calling us.”

Arc provides services, peer support and advocacy, and operates residential services in Washington, Greene and six surrounding counties. Through the community employment program, Arc clients, who earn at least minimum wage, are employed by dozens of businesses, including the city of Washington and its police department, Heisler’s Market, Kmart and Restoration Services.

The program became a separate entity from Arc’s training and employment center in 2015. At the time, just three clients worked in the community while the rest worked in the organization’s warehouse in Eighty Four, in light assembly, packaging and bulk mailing. Now, more than 65 clients are employed by area businesses.

“The days of exclusion are gone,” Wrubleski said. “Employment is the heart of what gets people involved in their community.”

The arrangement benefits Arc clients and employers alike, said Gene Steratore, a Washington resident and official in the National Football League. Co-founder of Steratore Sanitary Supply Inc., Steratore developed a friendship with one of the first Arc clients to obtain community employment, Jimmy Mathews.

“It was everything we hoped for when we sat down to develop this work-study job,” Steratore said of employing Arc clients. “It’s created jobs and allows (clients) to gain confidence and build skills. When you start seeing those things occur and you see you’re affecting some lives, it’s unbelievably rewarding. It’s priceless.”

One of Arc’s goals is to match clients with jobs they enjoy and at which they excel. Sometimes, it takes a few rotations for a client to realize what they like to do.

Chevi Dominick, 19, of Canonsburg, is a recent graduate who took vocational courses while in high school. Dominick’s team at Arc thought automotive detailing would be a natural fit for him, but Dominick wasn’t happy, so his team considered his real passion - music.

They reached out to Joe Reihner, owner of Washington Music Centre, who immediately took on Dominick as a trainee.

“He’s really helpful. I’m the sole proprietor here … and I’ve been expanding pretty rapidly, with things like online sales,” Reihner said. “Being able to give us a helpful employee and getting him in the workforce is great.”

Dan Johnson and Ryan Insana, Arc employment program specialists, said employed clients thrive because they take pride in contributing to their community. They identified several clients, in addition to Graysay, Mathews and Dominick, who are succeeding in a community work environment.

Tim Baer, 58, is a Washington High School graduate who maintains his pride for the Little Prexies football team. He works at 84 Lumber, doing janitorial work and light maintenance.

“Tim is very capable of work, but he had never gotten a chance,” Wrubleski said.

Joyce Ann Emerick, 60, of Avella, has been trained and works for several area companies.

“She used to second-guess herself,” said Insana. “Now, her confidence in herself has just skyrocketed.”

Wrubleski describes Cheryl Parinno, 46, as “a sponge.”

“If there’s an opportunity, she’ll take it,” he said.

Parinno, of Canonsburg, disassembles the breakfast buffet at Country Inn & Suites. She said she saves the money she earns.

“I’m the best worker,” she said, giving a high five.

John Adams, of Houston, works for Restoration Services Group in Cranberry. Johnson said others admire Adams for his work ethic.

“He’s a leader here,” Johnson said. “Our working clients take on a leadership role with their peers.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2dMX33P

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Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com

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