It’s a typical morning inside the casino café at Boulder Station:
Customers await their orders, servers buzz around tables, cooks push plates up into the window.
But amidst the familiar restaurant chaos, one of the bussers looks intently focused on her job of sorting the ever-growing pile of dishes.
That would be Pamela Stevens -- she was hired at the café after completing Opportunity Village's Pathway to Work job-training program in 2014. She was one of the few to get hired as a full time employee.
“So I was in the first group, which, we were all the Guinea pigs for the program, and three of us out of the first group did so well that the human resource department here actually asked us to apply," Stevens said.
At 44 years old, Pamela has held a few jobs here and there, before this as a cashier at Burger King. But she said she’s much happier at Boulder Station, where she can go on at length about her job duties.
When pressed on why getting a job was important, Stevens wasn’t quick to give too much away, other than hinting at tougher times.
“[I] didn’t really have a choice, because my mom kicked me and my husband out of their house," Stevens said.
Around this time, her eyes filled with tears, but she would only say that getting a job was, well, exciting. Stevens said she and her husband can now enjoy some Las Vegas shows, pay off some bills and save up for a car.
The Pathway to Work program helped her to overcome a physical disability that at first prevented her from carrying some of the trays in the restaurant.
Hours after Pamela is gone for the day, Sam Sedgwick is just starting his day, he was also a graduate of the Pathway to Work program, and is now employed as a porter, working full time during the graveyard shift, 12 midnight to 8 a.m. He was just able to buy his first car.
"It was on my my birthday when I got my first car, I saved up money to get it," Sedgwick said.
Sedgwick told a story of when his boss allowed him to take time off of work to grieve when his grandmother died.
"that's a new thing for me, no one in my other jobs really cared. They just think you're a Guinea pigs, basically," Sedgwick said.
Sam got a little more serious, however, when it came to talking about just how important keeping his job is.
"I believe I would actually be homeless, maybe, I'm not quite sure.
The Pathway to Work started at Boulder Station, where it did take a little convincing to allow individuals with disabilities train for jobs that deal with customers and guests every day.
But according to Maria Trejo, the team member relations manager at Boulder Station, with the kinks work out, she now has nothing but positives to shine on the program.
"Not only are they good team members, they're long term team members, so, Vegas is one of those cities where there's a lot of turnover, especially in the casino industry, our Opportunity Village team members stay, they stick, and they do extremely well," Trejo said.
Despite the success Pathway to Work has had at Boulder Station, there are still major hurdles to climb when it comes to getting businesses to allow the program through their doors. Judy Swain and Stacy Carlston are the manager and assistant manager of community outreach programs with opportunity village.
"I know they were very nervous, admittedly so, the thing about what people are most worried about doesn't happen," Swain said.
Carlston said people think the worst - that a person with a disability may have a seizure, become violent or self harming - in other words, things you see in movies.
"If someone hasn't worked and seen what we see on a daily basis they're not going to become aware until they are involved" Carlston said.
Swain and Carlston are charged with managing the five job development programs Opportunity Village offers, and also to try and expand the programs.
"The huge goal, across the board is community integration," Carlston said. "It's changing the mindset of what this looks like."
Sam used to work part-time as a security guard, and didn’t have the goals he now has.
"I want to have a family, a home, I want to buy a house and I want to go travel for a little bit," Sedgwick said.
With his job where he makes over $15 an hour and benefits, those dreams seem pretty attainable for Sedgwick.
The Pathway to Work program has now expanded to places like Centennial Hills Hospital and Get Fresh, a produce distributor. But there is still work to be done. Opportunity Village has roughly 1,500 clients at any given time, so the 15 people that the Pathway to Work program has trained barely seems to address the need. Especially when paired with estimates that say 80 percent of intellectually or developmentally disabled adults are unemployed or underemployed.
From Desert Companion: Just like anyone else
Pamela Stevens, busser, Boulder Station Cafe; Sam Sedgwick, porter, Boulder Station; Judy Swain, manager, community outreach programs, Opportunity Village; Stacy Carlston, assistant manager, community outreach programs, Opportunity Village