Craig's store manager keys jangle as he walks down the aisles. On paper, Craig Young has a learning disability, and he's sometimes impulsive or depressed. He doesn't really care about his exact diagnosis. He says he was just an angry kid. If he had a problem with somebody...
Craig: "I wouldn't try to sweet talk my way out of it. You know, I would just go up and hit them."
Craig was kicked out of high school for fighting. His first tries at employment were rocky. He walked off his first job washing cars and didn't come back. He left another job cleaning hospital rooms.
Carrie: "I used to go in many times after Craig had walked out and try to smooth things over with the employer."
Carrie Dickinson helps disabled people find and keep jobs. She runs the BOCES transitional service office in Gouverneur. She often finds herself the mediator between people and employers.
Carrie: "Well, once it's got to that point and they've had a blowup and they've walked out or whatever, my role is more to help Craig move on and to go back into that business and to try to repair the damage."
BOCES is one of several organizations in New York offering what's called supported employment. That can be as basic as help with job searches and resume writing. But BOCES can also offer incentives to employers: tax credits to businesses that hire people in the program, and reimbursement of up to a month's wages. And BOCES can provide job training much more intense than what employers have time for. Carrie Dickinson remembers teaching one person to bag groceries.
Carrie: "And I would actually be bagging while he was bagging, so people didn't really know that I was there coaching him, they thought I was just another bagger. And you stand next to him and you kind of...in the person's ear... "now don't forget, ask them if they would like help out with that when they come thru..." and you do that as a prompt before the person gets up there so they don't hear you, and you kind of observe to see if they remember to do on next person who comes through the line."
It's like working for the CIA!
Carrie: "Yeah--you know--you're undercover!"
That one-on-one training can last up to 18 months. But teaching tasks to the cognitively disabled is the easy part, Dickinson says. It's a lot harder to work with emotional disabilities like Craig's.
Carrie: "I can be standing right next to you at work and once something comes out of your mouth there's nothing I can do to take it back. Once that damage is done, it's really hard to try and repair that."
Employers too are less patient with behavioral problems. Marie Carter was Craig's former boss at the Family Dollar. Now she manages a branch in Watertown. She says teenagers from the BOCES program have a reputation.
Marie: "In a public setting you worry about how they're going to act if someone approaches them or, if their friends come in, how they're going to act with them in your stores."
But she says Craig was pretty quiet. And she understands what it's like to have a learning disability.
Marie: "Because I have dyslexia. You know, I was always told that there's a lot of things you couldn't do. I was turned down at different companies--not this one--for promotions and things because of that. I think that's why I give people a little more of a chance than some would."
Craig Young was encouraged by her attention. And a little unnerved.
Craig: "She scared me to death--when I first met her. But I knew that she was trying to work with me and everything. She pushes ya and pushes ya and pushes ya. She wants to see if you can do it."
He rose quickly from cashier to store manager. But Carrie Dickinson says some employers wouldn't have given him the chance. They won't hire people if they're in her program. So Dickinson doesn't tell them. She helps behind the scenes with their resumes and interview strategies. And sometimes those people get hired.
Carrie: "But they're working there and the business isn't getting the incentives, they're not getting the tax credits and they're not getting the wage reimbursements, and they're still hiring our people. They just don't know they're in the program."
So sometimes your involvement can be this foot in the door and sometimes it can be the thing that shuts the door!
Carrie: "That shuts the door--because they're part of our program so they figure they're not able to do the job."
Craig feels the same stigma. He says he'd be embarrassed to have a job coach now that he's manager. And he still has people checking in. Marie Carter, his former boss, stops by sometimes on her days off. And Carrie Dickinson always keeps in touch.
Carrie: "Even if it's only talking with them once every couple of months, you still have that follow-up. You still know how they're doing and you still know that if they really need help or they really need something, that there's someone there to help them along the way. I mean I work with them until they retire."
For North Country Public Radio, this is Greg Warner in Gouverneur.