Complain as we might about work, a job is a good thing to have. Beyond an income, it gives us pride and purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. The folks at Transition Services, Inc. get this.
TSI is a local nonprofit that supports people with developmental disabilities by offering them meaningful labor. Currently, the organization employs about 350 individuals in various businesses it’s specifically created to suit its employees.
“What we’ve done is to develop little businesses based on things that individuals have told us they enjoy doing,” explains TSI’s Director Cathy Freeze.
TSI began with greeting cards 14 years ago. This led to other art projects and today, there are more than 50 different products available for sale at Studio 8 Ten, TSI’s store in the Arts District.
“That was one department that grew quite extensively, because there are so many parts to making things that any individual, regardless of their limitations, can participate,” explains Freeze. “It takes a group, but they can put together a fantastic greeting card.” TSI has also developed housecleaning and yard-cleaning services for labor-oriented individuals. Circles is a lifestyle magazine published entirely by people with disabilities. For those who enjoy working with animals, there’s even kitten-sitting.
“We’re very good about moving them from place to place until we find the right situation that they enjoy coming to do every day,” says Freeze.
This is about more than menial labor; it reflects a major shift in society’s view of people with disabilities as deserving of rich and fulfilled lives. The progression is due in part to the Developmental Disability Assistance Act of 2000, which ensures they have access to community services promoting self-determination, productivity and inclusion. TSI is just one of many organizations reflecting this trend. Today, there are several government organizations for people with disabilities, such as Nevada’s Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Nevada Division of Mental Health and Developmental Services.
The latter is where a person starts on the path to employment with TSI, or with one of the five similar organizations, such as Opportunity Village or Easter Seals Nevada. An applicant may interview with one or all of the employment providers to find the most suitable match. Then, depending on the individual’s capabilities and the job, a salary is set. For TSI’s cleaning crews, this amounts to minimum wage. For others, it can mean a legally allowable sub-minimum wage. TSI works closely with the Department of Labor to determine what is appropriate. However, this pass that programs such as TSI receive is not without controversy. In June, Goodwill Industries came under fire when NBC reported that it paid some employees with disabilities as little as 22 cents per hour.
As for Dominique Clay-Brown, a receptionist with TSI, she says, “I love my job. I have been able to make friends and be accepted for who I am, and I continue to learn more and more each day.”