Douglas Cooperative offers services for disabled adults

Dec. 09, 2013 @ 10:21 AM

Douglas Cooperative Inc. is a private, non-profit organization that provides an assortment of services to developmentally disabled adults in East Tennessee. Among those services are supported employment, in which local companies outsource specific job functions to DCI for developmentally disabled adults to work.

One such organization that works with DCI is PCA Products Inc., a small wholesale manufacturer of decorative aluminum screen doors. This January will mark the start of the ninth year that the company has partnered with DCI, with jobs such as the labor of bagging screws and cutting rubber and felt used in the production of doors being outsourced to DCI.

“I met a greenhouse owner and just in the progress of conversation, he mentioned that he has Douglas Cooperative people come out and fill out his flower pots for when he grows his next season of products,” PCA Products Inc. Account Manager Adele Newlon said. “It was very economical for him, so I spoke with the owner of PCA Products and explained that all the screws that I was counting out by hand, and all the rubber and felt I was cutting by hand, he was paying me too much to do it; he should go to DCI.”

DCI offered such a reasonable price for the labor that it was impossible to refuse, Newlon said. In her experience working with DCI, she said that the workers have been fantastic.

“We’ve been beside ourselves with how wonderful they are to work with,” Newlon said. “How good they are, how meticulous they are. We’re trying to find any other way to outsource to them. They’re a dream to work with.”

DCI County Director Danny Sanders said that DCI will bid on contracts with local business to find contracted work for the individuals they serve. The work that is completed varies among the different businesses.

“Some of the things we have are contract work, piece work as it’s called,” Sanders said. “This can involve things like stuffing envelopes or assembling small pieces.”

Most of the individuals who are helped by DCI are referred through the state. “The state waiver program,” Sanders said. “We provide services to those individuals, and then we are reimbursed by the state. It can also be done through private pay, where the family or individual pays for the services themselves.”

DCI Service Coordinator Susie Whaley said that DCI likes to find any way they can to help developmentally challenged adults, more than just employment services.

“We have a group home with eight ladies in it, and we take them on outings, we do crafts, classes,” Whaley said. “Whatever their needs are. Different people require different things.”

With a poor economy, it can be difficult to get placement in jobs, Whaley said. In addition to contracted work with places such as PCA Products Inc., DCI works to find individuals jobs through other means.

“We have a vocational person who goes out and looks into jobs and talks to employers, tries to find different jobs,” Whaley said. “We have people who go to Dollywood, people in restaurants, people working in motels doing laundry and vacuuming and dusting. Buddy’s Bar-B-Q lets us train people there, we have people at The Diner; a lot of the work is out in the community.”

Newlon said she thinks many businesses should work with DCI.

“I believe it’s a win-win,” Newlon said. “Economically for the business, they save a lot of money on something that needs to be done but costs a lot more to do in house; for the developmentally challenged adults, it helps give them a purpose and something to do. We all want to feel useful, and this gives them that opportunity.”

Every year PCA Products Inc. hosts a lunch for the workers they employ through DCI as a way to show appreciation for the hard work and dedication of those employees. This year the lunch took place last Tuesday.

“Well, I’d like to say it was our idea, but to my understanding a lot of the companies have done it,” Newlon said. “Every year we try to do something nice for our employees, and we consider them an extension of our family here.”

Sanders said that he believes the community is a better place because of the efforts of DCI. “Without us, some individuals would literally not have a place to go,” Sanders said. “No place to live, no job.”