Employment opportunities change lives

Recent generous gifts from North Phoenix Kiwanis and Wells Fargo foundations provided funding to renovate space on Gompers Employment Services (ES) campus to create a career transition program.

“The sGompers staff helps Adam write a resumeoft skills necessary to complete a successful job search and achieve long term employment are complex and often more difficult to learn for individuals with cognitive disabilities,” Mark Botterbusch, Director of Employment Services explained. He continued, “Understanding social cues, writing a resume, explaining one’s experience, and clearly communicating during the interview process are very difficult for people with disabilities who have not interviewed or worked in a traditional job setting before.”

As more members in Gompers Employment Services program develop vocational skills that qualify them for competitive wage employment in the community, creating a professional space for career transition training became essential. In addition to the financial support provided for the physical renovation by the North Phoenix Kiwanis Foundation and the Wells Fargo Foundation, Associated Billing Services donated office furniture and a sister agency donated computers, monitors and keyboards. Without support from these caring supporters, the career transition center would not have been possible.

“Our members work very hard to develop their employment skills,” Botterbusch. “Thanks to philanthropic support from the community, we now will be able to offer a job search training program specific to our members learning styles, while increasing their opportunity for success in finding employment.”

Quality work expands members opportunities

Increasing job opportunities in the community has been an important goal for Gompers Employment Services program, Director Mark Botterbusch explained. “One year ago, we were able to offer our members two Group Supported Employment (GSE) job sites – today we have six – a three-fold increase in opportunity.”

GSE sites are important because the work occurs at the employer’s place of business, not in Gompers’ center-based training program on our Glendale campus. It is important for our members to gain real world job experience, as well as the social skills practiced with community integration. All of our current GSE sites have originated from center-based contracts.

“We celebrate small business owners who are inclusive in their diversity outreach to include individual with disabilities,” Botterbusch said. “We encourage Gompers’ supporters to not only support these fine companies, but to also reach out through their networks to help us grow our GSE sites even more.”

Highlights from our four new community partners

Laura’s Gourmet Granola

A leader from Laura’s Gourmet Granola reached out to Gompers Business Solutions program through our Website to learn more about our efforts to train individuals with disabilities in competitive wage opportunities. Mark Botterbusch and his team quickly scheduled a time study to determine what was needed to meet the specifications for a contract packaging granola and granola bars. “We began with a center-based contract a few months ago and are now ready to start the GSE job site,” Botterbusch explained. “It has been our pleasure to be invited to work in the niche market of gourmet foods.”


It’s been almost a year since Gompers members began assembling HBI packages of rolling papers. The contract with HBI came through a referral from one of our sister agencies when production levels increased beyond their ability to meet demand. Work is now available at both our ES center-based campus and at the HBI job site. “We have so many members skilled in the assembly required for this contract that we now are able to rotate those who work at the job site,” said Employment Support Supervisor Karen De Santiago. “It’s a real benefit to our members to have transition opportunities between center-based and real-world employment.”

Rigid Industries Lighting & Panoramic Press

Rigid Industries approached Gompers a little over 18 month ago when they were seeking fiscally focused business solutions for their company. “They needed a fixed cost for the assembly of their after-market LED light accessory kits,” Xavier Conde, Gompers Business Solutions supervisor said. “We were able to nail down their costs, which was critical for them in order to be able to set their retail pricing.” Rigid was so pleased that when the time came to outsource their decal kits to Panoramic Press, they recommended Gompers Business Solutions for the assembly of the decal kits. “Our growth is directly related to word-of-mouth recommendations,” Botterbusch explained. “By producing high-quality, dependable results, we can help entrepreneurial companies successfully meet their bottom-line objectives.”

Jessica’s story – a journey toward increased independence

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By Yvonne “Kelly” Lyles, Gompers Employment Services Supervisor

Jessica’s life was significantly altered in her early teens when a car accident resulted in a traumatic brain injury. Now a young adult, Jessica felt socially isolated when her living situation changed and her days were primarily spent at her group transition home. A friend working at the nonprofit Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL) referred Jessica to Gompers Employment Services (ES) program.

Jessica began her journey toward increased independence at our Glendale ES campus on April 10, 2015.

When she arrived, she seemed emotionally broken and devastated regarding the rapid change of events taking place in her life. One of those changes was working for the first time. Her first day was one of many tears but underneath, I could clearly see her spirit of determination and perseverance.

I reassured Jessica that Gompers is a good place where she would find the staff very caring, understanding and supportive. I recognized her leadership qualities and explained to her that at Gompers, she would have the opportunity to prove them to herself.

We discussed how she felt a loss of control over the things in her life. I shared that at Gompers she would have control. It would be up to her to succeed. I went on to explain the importance just staying in the moment and focusing on the task at hand. I went on to encourage her to try everything given to her because I knew it was critical for her to not quit on herself.

Jessica will tell you her objective is to be independent and to hold a job in the community. She now views her experience at Gompers as a stepping stone to help her get what she wants out of life. Jessica works hard, stays focused, respects her staff and works well with others. She has made a few friends and now even smiles frequently.

When asked what matters most to her about being in the ES Transition to Employment (TTE) program, Jessica readily shares, “I have the opportunity to learn job skills like working with others, being on time and how to give my best efforts.” She went on to share, “I like the staff here. They are nice and understand me.”

Believing in the abilities of others is an important part of what we do at Gompers. My role as an ES supervisor is to provide the tools, skills and encouragement necessary to allow each of my participants to be successful. In the past two months, Jessica has proven she has the drive and desire to succeed. Her efforts resulted in her earnings growing significantly from her first month of employment to her second. In addition, Jessica now has a meaningful place to come, work and enjoy the friendship and support of others.

Walmart tour opens members’ minds to job opportunities

By Mark DeAngelis

Preparing for employment is like getting ready for a marathon. You need to understand what’s expected of you physically and be skilled in doing it — whether it’s shrink-wrapping, lifting, placing documents in a scanner or perhaps typing — but you also need to have a clear mental picture of what a job entails so you are sure it’s the right fit for you.

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Part of getting our members in the right mindset for employment is showing them all of the different opportunities available in our community, and one of those is of course Walmart, one of our nation’s largest retailers.

Recently we visited the Walmart at 35th Avenue and Bethany Home Road with Gompers members Carolynn, Christine, Mary, Philip and Vanessa in attendance. Store representative Zaide took us around from department to department, explaining what happens in each one.  We got to meet other staff and everyone was able to taste freshly made tortillas in the Deli area.

mary at walmart jan 2015 2Mary was having a hard time walking around, so I asked Zaide if there was a battery-operated cart available for her. Zaide really went out of her way to get one for her, and that really made Mary’s day. In explaining the different areas of the store and the roles employees play in each one, Zaide was so helpful. She said we can come back any time and I explained to her that I was rotating clients so we would like to do that. Zaide has been a real positive representative for Walmart, as she volunteered to take our first group on a tour at the last minute several months ago when the Walmart rep who had scheduled the tour was not available. She also gave us a dozen cupcakes to take with us when we left.

Our members learned a lot at Walmart during their tour. Mary walked away understanding more about the process for making flour tortillas, and also about the variety of flowers and fertilizers in the Garden Department. “I thought the employees at Walmart are friendly and outgoing; they explained things simply so everyone can understand,” she added.

“I learned how much food they carry in their deli!” Carolynn exclaimed.

And, speaking of food, an unexpected bonus came in the form of an anonymous gentlemen shopping that day. He had asked Zaide about our group and, when he learned our purpose for being there, he donated $40 for the group to have lunch at McDonald’s. It was a perfect ending to an informative tour.

Mark DeAngelis is an Employment Services Supervisor who presently oversees safety and behavioral issues for approximately 40 members at Gompers Employment Services. DeAngelis has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in visual impairment (certification) in the State of Arizona.

Safeway tour opens doors to possible employment

By Mark DeAngelis

When the sliding doors of Safeway opened for Employment Services last week, it truly seemed like a promise of what could be for some of our members.

Last Wednesday — the day before Gompers’ Annual Thanksgiving Luncheon — Anna, Jeremy, Michelle, Samantha and I made a trip to the Safeway store at 7th Street and Glendale Avenue to pick up 500 cookies for our feast, which was sponsored by a grant from Safeway Foundation.

tour 4We were hoping we might talk management into a quick tour of the premises to learn a bit more about the employees behind Safeway’s success and also to find out if there were jobs that might appeal to our members.

When we met Store Director Michelle Colgrove, we got that and so much more.

Michelle and Assistant Manager Nick Stika wasted no time in putting our cookies aside in a safe place and gathering our group for an impromptu tour. As introductions were made, manager Michelle pointed out she had the same name as one of our members, and they became fast friends.

tour 3Michelle and Nick started by telling us theirs was the busiest store in the Phoenix Division when it came to sales. It was very clean and beautifully decorated, with both fall/Thanksgiving displays and others celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, so it certainly was an appealing place to shop.

We started in the Floral Department. Michelle asked our members what they thought the biggest holiday for flower sales was. Samantha answered correctly when she said it was Valentine’s Day. (Mother’s Day came in second.) We also visited the Produce Department and Jeremy guessed that the biggest seller there was bananas. Guess what? According to Michelle, warehousebananas are the No. 1 seller in any grocery store. That may be so, but everyone enjoyed the samples of Fuji apple that Nick thoughtfully offered during our stop there.

Everyone was able to go behind the scenes and visit some of the areas where extra items are stocked that can’t fit on the grocery aisles. In addition to dry storage, there are large walk-in refrigerators for every department that has perishable products — and that’s a lot of refrigerator space!

From there, we went behind the meat counter into the butchers’ area and we were able to see how hamburger meat was ground. We also got to go behind the scenes into the Bakery Department, where manager Michelle had everyone hold hands and walk in, single-file, tour 6for safety. She had the chief baker — who has been with Safeway for 20 years — open a walk-in oven so that everyone could look inside and get an idea of just how much baking Safeway does. (Now it’s no mystery how they were able to supply 500 cookies so quickly!)

As we approached the front of the store, Nick brought us behind one of the checkout counters not in use and set it up so that our members could ring up groceries. Jeremy even tried his hand at bagging and liked it so much that he asked me to talk to his dad about working at Safeway!

tour 8Michelle was such a great teacher. I really liked how she prompted our members and cued them regarding items in a grocery store. She loved having another Michelle on the tour and they really got along. (Our Michelle told me she wanted to stay the rest of the day.) Samantha opened up to Michelle and walked into the huge freezer with her. Nick made sure everyone was taken care of and was so conscious of any needs we might have or opportunities for our members to step up and actively participate — just like they did at the cash register.

Evidently Gompers Employment Services made an impression on manager Michelle, too.

tour 10“Jeremy was very eager — it seems to me like he had a lot of ability and would fit into this environment,” she observed. “He took initiative and even said he wanted us to ask his parents about working at Safeway. Samantha was an absolute doll; I could tell she wanted to put herself out there, but was a little on the shy side. Michelle also stepped right up and was asking and answering questions. And, with how focused Gompers’ staff was on the members during the tour, it was obvious staff took a personal interest in their members’ learning experiences.”

michelle, nick and jeremyMichelle told me her biggest joy in taking our members on a tour of our store was the curiosity and the desire she witnessed. “It seemed like they were so eager to learn,” she said. “Now that I better understand Gompers’ perspective from the employment side of it, there are things I see on our side that many of these individuals would be able to do, like aisle sweeps, bagging and talking to customers. It probably would be good for them to have some exposure in a setting like our store, maybe a couple of hours a week. I think it would be a great learning experience both for those of us at Safeway and for Gompers people coming in to learn what it takes to work in the grocery business.”

I should mention that this is the second consecutive year Safeway has stood behind our Thanksgiving feast. “The Safeway Foundation is proud to support Gompers’ Thanksgiving Luncheon again this year,” Safeway’s Director of Public Affairs Nancy Keane said. “As Arizona’s largest employer of people with disabilities, Safeway applauds the outstanding work that Gompers performs to help individuals fulfill their dreams and maximize their abilities.”

Thank you, Safeway, for opening your doors to us!


Mark DeAngelis is an Employment Services Supervisor who presently oversees safety and behavioral issues for approximately 40 members at Gompers Employment Services. DeAngelis has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in visual impairment (certification) in the State of Arizona.