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Adults with disabilities from Lifespan find work at Go Burrito

By Amanda Raymond
amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Jessica Randall graduated from North Rowan High School and has her first job at Go Burrito, at 115 W. Fisher St. She works from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., making sure the restaurant is spotless.

She probably walks up and down the stairs dozens of times during her shift.

“It doesn’t hurt me none,” she said. “I’m just doing my job.”

Randall is one of three employees at Go Burrito who was hired through Lifespan, an organization that, among other services, helps individuals with disabilities get jobs.

Lifespan employs its participants in 18 counties in North Carolina, but Juanita Oats, rehabilitation counselor with the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, said they had been having trouble getting the program into Rowan County.

She said counties with more businesses participate more, and so do family-owned businesses and nonprofits.

Lifespan seemed to pitch their services to Go Burrito at the perfect moment. The restaurant had a runner who would keep the restaurant clean during the day, but he had to take time off because of health issues.

Rachel Griffith, general manager of Go Burrito, said they struggled while the runner was out, but she was able to hire the employees from Lifespan to work in that position.

Go Burrito has hired individuals with disabilities before, along with people who were homeless or had criminal records, owner Mikey Wetzel said.

“There’s just a gamut here,” he said.

Wetzel said Griffith is the type of manager who creates such a good work environment that some workers who have quit for other opportunities have asked for their jobs back when those opportunities did not work out.

“It’s Rachel’s vision and inclusion of people that makes things happen,” he said.

Griffith said she wants the employees to work for Go Burrito for as long as possible.

“That’s my biggest goal with all of our employees. This is their home,” she said.

Randall said she is getting the hang of her duties at the restaurant. Griffith said those duties include cleaning the bathroom, dining areas and stairwell.

Wetzel said the job can be challenging since the rooms can get messy in blink of an eye. And with the restaurant having four dining areas, it can be difficult to keep up with them all.

Alisha Tatum, director of employment services, said Lifespan employees supervise and train the participants and accompany them to the job when they first start. Over time, they slowly back off to let the participants work on their own.

“We’re there to help smooth out the rough places,” she said.

Employers can also call Lifespan back in if they start to have problems with the program’s participants.

Joi Hatcher, senior employment specialist, works with Randall. She said Randall was a good worker and did not need much supervision. She actually works faster if Hatcher stays in the background.

Hatcher said at first Randall had trouble finishing all of her work before the 11 a.m. lunch rush.

“It frustrated her but it kind of inspired her, too,” Hatcher said.

Now, Randall has developed a set pattern and wears a watch to help her keep time.

Hatcher said she will be phasing herself out soon and allow Randall to continue on her own.

Wetzel said it was easy for the restaurant to get involved since they have “needs all over.”

He said he would spread the word to other downtown merchants.

“I know there are some businesses where it will be a huge help,” he said.

Businesses that want to get involved with the program can contact Wade Ikard, Lifespan account executive, at 704-393-5916 extension 1417.

For more information about Lifespan, visit www.lifespantservices.org.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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