Chris Banker of Braintree helps stock the shelves at a Tedeschi Food Shop.
Two days a week, Efrain Gomez works at a Mobil station in Plymouth, where his duties include stocking the cooler and sweeping. On three other days, he bakes bread at the Olive Garden in Plymouth.
Gomez, 28, of Carver, is like any other hard worker. But the fact that he is employed at all stands out because as a developmentally disabled adult, he is from a population that faces a special challenge landing jobs of any type.
Recently, a group of five employers from this region earned plaudits for helping to lower that hurdle in their communities.
At a legislative breakfast, executives and managers from those businesses were presented with certificates by area lawmakers recognizing their efforts to hire local people with developmental difficulties.
“Work is important to most everyone’s sense of self worth, and folks with developmental disabilities are really no different,” said Casey Seaman, director of the Plymouth-area office of the state Department of Developmental Services. “Most of them just need a chance. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to see through the differences to the real core strengths and abilities that are there.”
The breakfast is an annual event that Seaman’s office, her agency’s Plymouth-area Citizens Advisory Board, and the Arc of Greater Plymouth jointly hold with area lawmakers on issues relating to the developmentally disabled. This year’s focus was jobs.
Honored for their hiring were Quincy-based Granite City Electric Supply Co.; Shaw’s supermarket in Hanson; Rockland-based Tedeschi Food Shops; VERC Enterprises, the Duxbury-based owner of gas station/convenience stores and car washes; and Chartwells dining service at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay.
Each was chosen by one of the agencies that contracts with the Department of Developmental Services to serve area people with developmental disabilities.
The agencies provide disabled job seekers with training, placement, job coaching, and sometimes internships. But despite successes, advocates say the need outpaces the jobs available.
“For us, the hope is that businesses would realize what good employees people with developmental disabilities are,” said Kathy Dunn of Plymouth, an advisory board member. “They are very eager to get a job, they feel a great sense of responsibility, they are honest, they are a lot of fun, and they are proud to have the job.”
She said her son Patrick, for example, has worked at the Shaw’s supermarket on Pilgrim Hill Road in Plymouth for 14 years, initially as a bagger in high school and now as a 35-hour-a-week cashier.
“He’s done extremely well and he’s very dependable,” she said.
Dunn said that when people with disabilities work, it also benefits society since they “pay taxes and they become more self-supporting.”
Developmentally disabled adults hold a variety of jobs, including in food service, retail, maintenance, offices, and landscaping, according to Deborah Monopoli, director of employment services for Arc of Greater Plymouth, one of the area service agencies.
Prior to assuming his current part-time jobs, Gomez did maintenance work at the YMCA in Hanover, cleaned tables at a McDonald’s in Marshfield, and worked in a warehouse in Plymouth. He also interned at Chartwells, gaining experience that helped him land the job at Olive Garden. Currently, he also fills in as a receptionist at the Arc of Greater Plymouth.
He said of VERC Enterprises, which owns the Mobil station where he works, “I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, helping me get a job that I like,” voicing similar gratitude to Olive Garden.
The Arc of Greater Plymouth chose to honor VERC because the company employs three people the agency serves, and in light of the firm’s commitment three years ago — since fulfilled — to have 20 percent of its jobs held by people with developmental disabilities. Currently VERC has 60 locations and about 230 employees, 48 of whom are developmentally disabled.
Leo Vercollone, president of the firm and the recipient of its certificate, said of the commitment, “We felt from a community perspective it was a good thing to do.” But he also said his employees with developmental disabilities help create a “nice culture” at his locations.
“They are always positive, they always have a smile, they enjoy coming to work,” he said. “And it’s contagious.”
Granite City Electric employs five developmentally disabled people at its 28 stores. Four are from this region, three of whom were placed by Road to Responsibility, a Marshfield-based agency that chose to honor Granite City.
“Part of our core values of the company [is] to help the people in the communities we serve,” said Phyllis Godwin, the CEO and owner of the firm. Godwin, Steve Helle, the firm’s president and chief operating officer, and Paul Everett, its director of human resources, were all recognized.
Everett said the disabled workers are “excellent employees and meet a need,” noting that their jobs can be hard to fill.
Tedeschi Food Shops was selected by Friendship Homes based on its hiring of eight people served by the Norwell-based agency. Peter Tedeschi, president and CEO of the 195-store chain, received the certificate.
Greg Donoghue, Tedeschi’s vice president of human resources, said the company employs 13 developmentally disabled people in all, nine of them in this region.
“It’s a great way for us to give back to the community and support our stores,” he said. “And it’s been a good thing for the store environments. . . . They are very diligent workers and enthusiastic to be there.”
The Shaw’s in Hanson was selected by New England Villages for hiring two people served by the Pembroke-based agency. In all, seven of the store’s 112 employees are developmentally disabled, said store manager Jeffrey Perry.
Perry said developmentally disabled employees “work hard. They are very dependable. They are thoughtful, caring people.”
The Arc of Greater Plymouth selected Chartwells for recognition because of the internships its Mass. Maritime location has provided to people served by the agency, three of whom eventually got permanent jobs there. The certificate went to Luther Fritzinger, Chartwells’ dining service director for that location.