In the Community
From Whence Cometh My Help?September 03, 2010
In these economic times, every nonprofit organization and business I know is looking for ways to improve operating efficiency. Do you layoff or furlough staff? Do you reduce hours and/or services? One of the things that has helped the bottom line of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry is the addition of Jennifer Blair Smith to our workforce one day a week.
Over the last several years, our staff has been reduced by 1.5 FTE, and Jennifer does many of the tasks that we would otherwise have trouble accomplishing. She folds brochures and letters and stuffs and seals envelopes for mailing. She does some data entry. She shreds documents. She files. And she is grateful to have a minimum wage position even one day a week, knowing that her work is valued and she enjoys being with people who enjoy her company.
Jennifer suffered from anoxia (inadequate oxygen reaching her brain) when she was 9 months old, likely due to an allergic reaction to penicillin or an unknown virus. The resulting damage caused both physical and learning disabilities, and Jennifer has bravely struggled to minimize the impact of these issues and utilize her other abilities and skills throughout her life. After her school years, she has always worked or tried to find work doing something which would not only help her to support herself but which would keep her active and involved. Some experiences have been better than others. In some cases, Jennifer said, “It didn’t seem like a real job, because they did not treat me like a real employee.” She said she has sometimes been relegated to the back rooms, away from customers or clients, or that she earned less than minimum wage simply because she had a disability. Fortunately, that has not always been the case, and her favorite employment opportunities have been those where she is taught new things, and where she is able to be a part of the social interaction of the business.
“I love talking to people,” Jennifer said, “and I feel proud when I learn to do something well and can do it again from one time to the next.” From the Community Foundation’s perspective, we are pleased to have her working with us. She works at a relatively slow and steady pace, and her accuracy at most things is quite good…probably better than mine would be. Physically, some days are worse for her than others, but that does not keep her from coming to work. We all admire her persistence and understand that most days she has some level of pain, but that does not deter her from wanting to be at work. On the more difficult days, Jennifer said recently, “I just try not to show it.” When I asked Jennifer for permission to write about her in the blog and spoke with her about her experiences, I asked her what she would want our readers to know. “Disabled people are the same as everyone else,” she said. “Tell people to hire them—to give them a chance.” I couldn’t have said it better.
Jennifer is, as a regular fixture around here on Fridays, an “everyday matter.” But for her, and for us, she makes EVERY DAY MATTER.
Denise K. Spencer