Developmental disabilities don’t hold locals back

Ginger Brawley sorts plastic silverware as she refills the common stand before the lunch rush hits at Wendy’s Restaurant near Mesa Mall. Brawley has worked at the fast food restauarant for 21 years.

Frequent lunchtime visitors to the Wendy’s near Mesa Mall probably recognize Ginger Brawley.

Brawley has been wiping tables and taking care of the floors at the fast-food restaurant for 21 years and counting.

“I’ll work here as long as I’m able,” she said.

Brawley is one of the 50 to 100 locals who at any time are employed in the community with help from Mesa Developmental Services. MDS employment specialists help people with developmental disabilities build their resumes, polish their interview skills and facilitate the hiring process with numerous employers in the Grand Valley.

It’s a successful process that helps employers and community members focus on people’s abilities more than their developmental disabilities, according to MDS spokeswoman Marilee Langfitt. Langfitt said she has heard from employers that people hired through MDS are punctual and reliable additions who often stay longer than most hires in entry-level positions that frequently experience high turnover.

“These people have goals and dreams and talents like the rest of us, and they deserve to be treated with dignity,” Langfitt said. “They’re more like everyone else than different from everyone else.”

That is the message Langfitt and others in the community are trying to drive home during March, which is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Developmental disability resources have been posted at the Mesa County Central Library this month, proceeds from sales at Barnes & Noble March 23–24 will benefit MDS, and a film festival featuring films starring and made by people with developmental disabilities will open at 5:30 p.m. April 20 at the Avalon Theatre.

Developmental disabilities affect 3 percent of the world’s population and are the most common types of disabilities. A developmental disability is any severe mental and/or physical impairment that occurs before a person turns 22. Developmental disabilities can result from cerebral palsy, autism, traumatic brain injury or genetic chromosomal disorders.

Grand Junction native Brandi Coleman said her experience with cerebral palsy, Attention Deficit Disorder and minor cognitive impairment haven’t stopped her from volunteering at Head Start and pursuing a certificate in early-childhood education from Western Colorado Community College. If anything, her situation has inspired her in her work.

“One of my assignments was to create a 10-year plan. In 10 years, I would love to create my own lesson plan for (preschoolers) with developmental disabilities,” she said.

Coleman said she has volunteered with preschoolers for five years and enjoys the company of little ones.

“They’re energetic, and they make me happy,” she said.

Paul Sims, who has cognitive disabilities, said what makes him happy is washing trucks and sweeping at Mays Concrete, where he has worked for 15 years. Sims lives on his own and works five days a week at Mays.

“Fifteen years in one job is pretty good,” he said.

His supervisor, Jeff Handke, agreed.

“He’s a good worker,” Handke said. “We joke a lot. It keeps the day going.”


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