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Saturday, Jun 3, 2023

Pathways Program Partners with Business

By Jo-Ann Carol Cubello Contributing Reporter When Anna Eskadarian, a representative for New Horizon’s Pathways Program, visited Walmart in Panorama City to purchase gifts for their clients, store manager Masoud Ravazi, learned of their innovative transition program to employ developmentally-challenged workers and he decided to partner with the organization. “Since our managers have some autonomy of how we run our center, we can make decisions at the store level,” he said. “I realized it was a win-win situation for the store and the community.” Twice a week since April, eight developmentally-disabled adults take the MTA bus from their sheltered workshop at New Horizons to Walmart, accompanied by a New Horizon’s “job coach,” where they do a variety of jobs. After six months, they hope to move into full-time positions at Walmart or another employer in the outside world. New Horizons, based in North Hills, provides diversified services to adults with developmental disabilities (cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation, epilepsy, and other similar developmental disabilities) or acquired traumatic brain injuries. Pathways is part of New Horizons’ “supported employment” program. It is the largest in Los Angeles County, with 160 clients working in more than 130 job locations, and most earning between $8 and $19 an hour. Other local businesses participating in the program include Jon’s Marketplace, Magic Mountain, Trader Joe’s, Vallarta Supermarkets and Universal Studios Hollywood. Corporate Partners By advertising the benefits of this program, New Horizons hopes to find other organizations to partner with and to take this concept to a higher level. When a company is interested, job developers meet the employers to learn about their needs, and then Pathways finds the right person to fill the position. ‘In this way, the organization helps hundreds of employers by providing them with a capable, dedicated and stable workforce. These individuals continue to prove to a variety of businesses and the community that disability does not mean inability; it means capability,” stresses Eskadarian, support administrator for the program. “There are no special requirements either to the clients or the companies to hire our clients. It is the same process as non-disabled individuals.” Walmart’s Ravazi said the store benefits by employing “able bodies” that not only need to work, but want to work. He finds no challenges in hiring a person with disabilities. “It is more how we think as “able bodies” and how we put a label on others,” he said. “It is uplifting when I see the (New Horizons) clients in our store. They are never frowning and are happy to be here. They are meticulous about their job and perform the task the same way without having to repeat the instruction.” Ravazi proudly relates a success story of a Pathways participant who started as a daytime stocker in another store, went to work on the overnight shift, then was promoted to department manager and finally transferred to grocery reception in their Las Vegas super center. “He got the job because he was the best candidate for the position,” he said. “The eagerness of these employees to work makes them very productive which is good for business. They just need guidance in taking their first step..” Since the program has only been running for four months, the effect on the business is not yet clear, but Ravazi believes that in the long run it will be great for his store and the community. “How can it not?” he said. “When a person is productive, pays taxes, and achieves a quality of life, it benefits everyone.” Ravazi endorses this program for a variety of companies and plans to recommend the program to other Walmart mangers in the surrounding areas. Pathways clients appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the workforce. Nancy said, “I like working for a big company like Walmart. It is fun and I get more work experience.” Randy said his co-workers are great to work with, the customers are friendly and he enjoys earning money and gaining work experience. Daniel enjoys learning new things and meeting more people. For Kenny, it’s all about having a real job with decent pay and getting good experience. (Last names withheld for privacy.) Studies show that workers with disabilities typically have better attendance, use fewer sick days, arrive on time, work hard at their jobs, and stay longer with their employers. “All businesses from small to nationwide can get benefit from this program,” she said. Companies benefit since the program provides a job coach who works at the site along with new employees at no extra cost. They train, supervise and assist the Pathways participant to ensure that the worker meets the employer’s standards of quality, and they get the job done accurately and timely. “There are times when a full-time coach is required, but they may only need them to stop by once a week to check on their progress,” said Eskadarian. The company also becomes eligible for Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). “They want to support themselves rather than depend on public assistance,” Eskadarian said, “and they give back to the community through the taxes they pay.”

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