If there’s one thing that will cause disagreement in Judge Jerry Buckler’s chambers it is the simple question: “Who is Daniel’s favorite?”
Daniel Whitaker works as office support in Scioto County’s Domestic Relations Court. Officially, he is in charge of shredding and vacuuming the chambers and courtroom in his two hours on Wednesdays. Unofficially, he is the chief morale officer and office boss on what the staff call “Daniel Days.”
“Everybody here in my court looks forward to him showing up every Wednesday at 10,” Buckler said.
Shredding is one of his main duties, and he does it so well that the machines can’t keep up with him. “Daniel is a shredding machine!” The judge said he works so fast he has to move on to other tasks to let the shredders cool down. They just can’t keep up with him and his cloud of shredding on the floor of the judge’s chambers.
But that led to learning a new life skill. Since working for Judge Buckler, he has learned how to vacuum, something he had never done before. Now, he keeps the carpets in the chambers and courtroom immaculate. A self-starter, Daniel one day also began cleaning and disinfecting the office doorhandles.
On Wednesdays, one of Bailiff Tyler Clifford’s most important jobs is to replace his own nameplate at his desk with one emblazoned “Daniel Whitaker”. If he forgets, Daniel isn’t afraid to call him on it to set things right.
Daniel isn’t a singular case of an individual with developmental disabilities proving themselves in the local workforce. The Community Employment Program at Vocation Station has 44 employers who hire individuals with developmental disabilities to work in their businesses a few hours a week. Some individuals work in multiple businesses, and they earn a competitive wage.
“The goal is eventual employment in the community, competitive wages, and an integrated setting,” said Steve Sowkulech, team leader for community employment at the Vocation Station.
The Community Employment Program at Vocation Station prioritizes the individual’s interests and talents, which are explored with the assistance of a job coach, and the employer’s needs. The individual is paired with an employer with needs that coalesce with the individual’s interests. The individual’s progress is followed by the job coach, who can also assist in any on-the-job issues should the need arise. Job coaches can follow the individual’s progress for life, or as long as the individual or employer decides it is needed.
The Vocation Station also provides transportation to and from work for the individuals it serves, as many do not drive.
The Community Employment Program serves individuals with developmental disabilities ages 14 to 65+. It’s an important program that shows its participants there is a world full of opportunities, not just the types of work they have been exposed to. For example, Sowkulech said, many individuals have only been exposed to janitorial work – which is fine, if that is their interest. However, many have talents in other directions.
Like Daniel Whitaker, the meanest, leanest shredder in town who gets a sitting judge to bring him a glass of water before heading to the bench to face a full docket.