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.

Gompers’ future is bright

By Mark Jacoby

Gompers is excited to embark on our STRATEGIC VISION 2020. Over the span of several months, Gompers’ team came together to chart a course that will take us to 2020 and our 73rd year. We took a critical look at every facet of our organization to determine where our strengths and opportunities for growth lie and, most importantly, in what ways can we serve the community, our families and our members and students even better. We focused our Vision on three distinct areas: Programmatic, Technology and Culture.

Programmatic: This is more than simply about growth — though growth is going to occur. Already, we have begun an intensive evaluation of how we are going to expand our DTA services kandi cropped for facebookinto other parts of the community. The emphasis of Employment Services will shift from Center Based Employment to integrated community settings while continuing to ensure individual choice and a spectrum of opportunities. Our school will enhance educational opportunities through the expanded use of technology for individuals of all ability levels. Finally, we will grow and develop senior services for those with disabilities, something that will more than likely bring about our first foray into Home and Community Services.

Technology: Gompers’ Board, Administration and staff have made an indelible commitment to making Gompers a leader in assistive technology services for those with developmental mickey slim shotdisabilities. By collaborating with a wide variety of community partners, we are looking to become a resource not only for those we serve but also the community at large — all built around measurable outcomes.

Culture: All of this sounds great, but, in the words of Jim Collins, if we don’t get the right people on the right seat of the bus, we simply won’t be successful. In order to accomplish our lofty goals, we are embarking on a plan that will enable us to better develop our staff by providing more opportunities for internal advancement and creating a culture of success. Gompers’ staff simply must be the best in order for Gompers to be the best, so without question our focus will be on attracting and retaining the highest quality staff available.

As you can see, we have laid out an aggressive plan, and it is one we are confident we can accomplish. We won’t do it alone, though. We are going to turn to our community partners for the necessary resources — financial, intellectual and material. Already we are developing exciting opportunities that hint at unlimited possibilities. I am excited about our strategic goals for the next six years and would invite you to reach out to me if you’re interested in learning more.

Mark Jacoby is the executive director of Gompers.

Trip to light-rail station is learning excursion

By Mark DeAngelis

Regularly at Gompers Employment Services, we go on learning excursions in the community. We have visited everything from sporting-goods stores like Cabela’s and major retailers like Walmart to Channel 3TV to see how things work behind the scenes.

These are more than field trips; they allow our members to see firsthand how other people work and the qualifications needed for their jobs. They also learn work ethics and how to work as a team, the importance of staying focused on a project or company goal — and often they learn about jobs and skills that they’ve never imagined.

The final objective is for members to set new personal goals and learn more about money management, communication and other skills that will make them successful as we help them find independent employment.

rail -- eric buys ticket - smallEarlier this week, we visited the Phoenix Light Rail Station (on Montebello Street, adjacent to the Chris Town Mall). One of the most important components of having a job is making sure you are there on time to perform expected tasks, and I wanted our members to understand how to make that happen.

Once there, Gompers members Eric, James and Michelle crossed the street with me to approach the Light Rail Station. This is the place where the railcars start their journeys, which take riders through areas of downtown Phoenix into Tempe and Mesa. At this and other light-rail stops, there are ticketing machines to purchase tickets. Three dollars buys an all-day pass — and, as I pointed out to our group, that’s a pretty good value for someone in Phoenix who needs to get to a job in Mesa.

rail -- explaining ticket machine - smallWe were fortunate that Transit Field Supervisor Dale Edelman saw us examining the ticket machines and came over to answer any questions our members might have. Dale talked about the various benefits of the light-rail system and showed our members the basics of using the ticket machines. He explained there are a number of questions riders must answer by pressing buttons before the machine will accept payment. Those questions determine the appropriate fares, so it is important to be able to answer them or to bring someone who can assist you. He also explained how light rail can be a real asset to people with disabilities here in the Valley. If they’re carrying proper identification, they can get a reduced rate ($1 or $2) for light-rail travel.

rail -- accessible seating - smallDale showed us how the train doors are like elevator doors, in that you can press the button at the side of the door and it will open to let you in, even if the train car is not yet ready to go. Also, on each train, there are a few rows of retractable seating (much like theater or stadium seating) which allow for wheelchair passengers to use light-rail travel. The trains travel at speeds up to 35 mph and there are no tie-downs, so it is recommended that individuals in wheelchairs apply the wheel locks on their chairs while the train is moving.

When a train pulls up to the station and opens its doors to let passengers come and go, Dale said, those doors will only be open for 15 seconds before they automatically close so that the train can safely continue its journey. If someone in a wheelchair is looking to board or disembark, it is good to notify the driver, as he or she can activate the door to stay open for a longer period of time.

rail -- getting ready to go - smallThe train cars begin running at 4:40 a.m. at end-of-line stations — like Montebello, where our members would board. Trains arrive every 12 minutes from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; all other hours, it’s every 20 minutes. The last full trip of the day is at 11 p.m., arriving at the opposite end of the line at midnight. Weekend and holiday hours vary.

Dale took us onto one of the trains sitting in the station and showed us the maps of the entire line, so that riders are able to follow the journey and know when their stops are coming up. Additionally, the driver announces each stop over an intercom so passengers know whether they need to get off or keep riding.

rail -- waving at platform - smallOur members were fascinated with their light-rail experience, and each had different take-aways. Michelle learned that she probably would need someone to help her with purchasing tickets. James seemed taken with the display of routes inside the railcar and noted the fact that the doors were like elevator doors in their operation.

“I learned you only have 15 seconds to get on before the door closes,” said Eric, marking an important detail that everyone will need to remember.

More information on light-rail transit is available by calling 602-253-5000.

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.

Students visit horse-rescue ranch

By Roger Cardillo

josh feeds horseAll children have one thing in common — they learn in a multitude of different ways. Our recent field trip to Wildhorse Ranch Rescue in Gilbert gave my Gompers Private School students an opportunity to socialize with rescued animals and understand the value of being kind to all creatures.

Wildhorse Ranch Rescue was started in 1995 by Intel Corporation employee Kim Meagher. When she and her two young children, Nick and McKay, learned that more than 60,000 homeless horses in the United States are sent to horrible deaths each year, they knew they wanted to help.

burro cropFor the first five years, they rescued horses privately. Finally, in 2000, they received nonprofit status for Wildhorse Ranch Rescue and were able to broaden their rescue outreach.

I visited WRR one day nine years ago and, as a crusader for animal rights, I’ve been involved with the organization ever since.

Since its beginnings, WRR has expanded its reach to rescue other animals. Our students from Gompers Private School visited horses, burros and cats up close and were able to feed, groom and touch the various textures of the animals. They were educated on all aspects of animal care and anatomy.

roger and senekaThe students were very calm around the animals and very taken by their gentle behaviors. They especially enjoyed feeding and grooming. It was a great day.

In addition to WRR, each year we visit Hunkapi, an equine therapy organization in Scottsdale that allows the students to experience horseback riding. We also plan field trips to wildlife safari parks, the zoo and the aquarium because our students are so intrigued and captivated by various species and types of animals.


Roger Cardillo earned his master’s degree in special education from the University of Phoenix and is certified in all related developmental delays and disciplines.

Coffee-shop project draws rave reviews

By Heather Hall

Last school year, when our class was researching information for a project, I came across an article about a school back east that started a coffee shop. I thought, “Why not us?”

baldwin and cruz small fileI took the idea and modified for my students. Instead of the coffee shop being done out of the classroom, I decided to have the students deliver coffee and morning treats to the different departments at Gompers. I was looking for a way to teach job skills, social and academic skills. I really wanted to make it a meaningful experience for the kids.

Each morning, my students set up a rolling cart with fresh coffee, muffins, bagels, flavored cakes, hot chocolate, and tea. For the students who run the store, it is an opportunity to learn some important life skills. The program provides students with moderate to severe disabilities a chance to plan, shop and sell.

coffee cart 1 small fileOur class was not sure how people were going to react to the coffee shop, but it has been a huge success. Both staff and Gompers members in our program rooms come out into the hallways on school mornings when they hear that “The Very Gompers Coffee Shop” has arrived. The students are very excited to be going around and interacting with everyone. My students are learning how to count dollar bills in order to increase their purchasing skills and their understanding of how money works.

Last year, I did most of the shopping for the coffee shop each week. However, this year the students are going to Sam’s Club to get the supplies for the coffee shop. They have a great time getting the items on the shopping list and are learning more about the different facets of running a business.

Since we have started the coffee shop, I have seen such growth in the students — in confidence, in social skills, and in handling of money. For those reasons alone, “The Very Gompers Coffee Shop” is the perfect brew for my classroom.

Heather Hall received her master’s degree in special education at ASU. She is trained in the TEACCH Model and is working on becoming a certified trainer in both TEACCH and the PECS communication system.

For Robert Flynn, 25-year career was anything but a wash

Robert Flynn has turned a life that might not have been lived into a rich experience that has benefited others.

Earlier this month, the 63-year-old Phoenix man retired after a 25-year career with St. Vincent de Paul. Unwilling to be sedentary, Flynn now is entering the Day Training for Adults program at Gompers to keep his skills sharp and to enrich his social experience.

In the Gompers lobby, Flynn proudly displays his work badge and 25-year certificate from St. Vincent de Paul. He is looking forward to joining a transitional DTA program room at Gompers.

In the Gompers lobby, Flynn proudly displays his work badge and 25-year certificate from St. Vincent de Paul. He is looking forward to joining a transitional DTA program room at Gompers.

“He actually knows quite a few people over at Gompers who transition between the DTA program and Employment Services, so he’ll be comfortable starting there,” Flynn’s sister Jackie Doerr noted.

When Flynn was born with Down syndrome in 1952, Doerr said the doctors advised her mother “just to tell my dad that Robert didn’t make it and that they would ‘take care of it'” — meaning that he would be institutionalized.

“It’s kind of the way they did things back then,” Doerr said, shaking her head. “We’ve come a long way. People with Down syndrome were so rare then, and not valued.”

When he was growing up, public schools did not welcome the boy with an IQ of 52. “He had to go to all kinds of different places,” his sister remembered. His parents persevered and, through their efforts, Flynn attended a number of educational and training programs around the Valley over the years.

“Think about how difficult it is to get a job when nobody can come back to high-school teachers and counselors for references,” Doerr pointed out. “That’s how it was for so many people like Robert back then.”

At age 22, Flynn got a job at Goodwill. His dad showed him how to get on the city bus, get to work and return home. Doing only the most menial tasks at Goodwill, he eventually decided he wanted to try something new. “So, when Gompers came in with their work program and worked with Robert to get the job at St. Vincent, he started doing some different things,” Doerr said.

At St. Vincent de Paul, he started out with sorting hangers and clothing donations, and then he “kind of eased into doing the laundry, which he really likes,” his sister said.

“The people I work with are my favorite thing about working,” Flynn added. “I really like Lee.”

Processing Center Supervisor Lee Harvey, who oversaw Flynn’s activities, said the feeling is mutual. “Robert did a lot of work for us,” he said. “He was in charge of making sure the tablecloths were washed and on the tables every day so that our clients in the dining room were comfortable when they ate. He also worked with the people in the warehouse to wash sneakers and tennis shoes, which we split up between selling at our thrift store and donating to another organization. He did a lot of different jobs around here.

At Flynn's recent retirement party, St. Vincent de Paul Processing Supervisor Lee Harvey and Flynn share a moment.

At Flynn’s recent retirement party, St. Vincent de Paul Processing Supervisor Lee Harvey and Flynn share a moment.

“I always enjoyed working with Robert,” Harvey continued. “He had his little moments like anyone else, but he was really happy-go-lucky and everyone misses him already. In fact, I’ve been looking over at our laundry area every morning when I come in, half-hoping maybe he’d forgotten about retiring and would just show up again.”

“He really likes to help, to be needed, to feel like he’s doing his part,” Doerr noted. “He’s got a big heart.”

Doerr said she has learned a lot from her younger brother, who for the past 12 years has lived independently with longtime friend Troy Tihey.

“He has two other siblings — another older sister and a younger brother — and we all kind of react to Robert in different ways, but I think we all admire what he’s done with his life,” she said. “I really credit growing up with Robert in helping me with my teaching career; he showed me that he could do as much as everyone else if he had the appropriate amount of time and things broken down into small steps.

“In my 41 years as an educator, 13 of which were teaching, I believe I was the teacher that I was because I knew I could reach any of my kids if I could just make the steps smaller.”

Upon joining one of the transitional rooms in Gompers’ DTA program, Director of Programs and Services Scott Muller noted Flynn will have the best of both worlds: two days in his program room with friends, volunteering and staying sharp with his vocational and social skills; and three days at Gompers’ nearby Employment Services center in Glendale, where he will have the opportunity to learn some new job skills, continue working in a part-time capacity and keep earning a paycheck.

“This is a man who has been an active and productive part of society for a long time, and those habits don’t just go away,” Muller said. “We believe Robert will benefit from DTA and will continue to learn and grow at Employment Services, just as he has done throughout his life.”

Flynn said he is looking forward to splitting his days between Gompers’ DTA program and its Employment Services center.

“It will give me something to do during the day,” he said, smiling. “I like being around people and doing things.”

Assistive technology adds up to success

By David Flagg
Lead DTA Staff Member

andrew pizza 1How hard is it to make math more fun and interactive? Well, it can be as easy as pie — a pizza pie, that is.

Andrew is one of the members served by Gompers’ Day Training for Adults program. We have been doing much more with assistive technology (or AT) in all of our program rooms as we try to find high- and low-tech ways to encourage greater independence for our members as they accomplish everyday tasks, so recently DTA Room Supervisor Joseph Nofsinger and I sat down with Assistive Technology Specialist Niraj Parikh to do an AT assessment for Andrew.

andrew pizza 2In the past, getting Andrew through his math exercises has been a challenge — so the goal was to figure out how we could get Andrew to be independently motivated to complete a page of math problems. Niraj, Joseph and I brainstormed on what Andrew likes to do on a day-to-day basis and, as we talked and compared notes, we realized he loves to do puzzles and also loves pizza. Why not combine the two and see if we can come up with an answer that works for him?

Using some simple colored paper, lamination and Velcro dots, we created a couple of different interactive “pizzas” for Andrew to use while working his math problems. One of the pies was divided into six detachable slices with removable pepperonis, while the second was a whole pie with removable pepperonis and onion slices (for a little variety in counting).

andrew pizza 3“There’s more to this AT solution than providing a new puzzle for Andrew,” Nofsinger pointed out. “We are trying to transition him to Gompers Employment Services, where he will be able to earn a paycheck. If he takes on a job where he needs to put 10 spoons in a package, for example, he is going to need to have counting skills. This pizza is one more tool that gets him one step closer to increased independence.”

While Andrew still works best with a bit of guidance while working his math sheet, he does it willingly and is able to do the counting — simply by removing or reattaching pieces of the pizza — and come up with the answers on his own. Math seems to have become much more enjoyable for him with this new way to process the task.

Students exposed to new frontiers at Safeway Training Center

By Dory Chamas

Ms. Chamas' high-school class recently visited the Safeway Training Center at Gompers' Employment Services campus in Glendale.

Ms. Chamas’ high-school class recently visited the Safeway Training Center at Gompers’ Employment Services campus in Glendale.

Life is more than reading, writing and math. It also involves immersion in other skills necessary to succeed in both work and life.

The students in my transitional classroom recently made their first visit to the Safeway Training Center at our Gompers Employment Services campus in Glendale. Once there, they received an introduction to the job skills needed to work in a grocery store. As a group, we will be doing hands-on training with activities such as bagging, cashiering, stocking merchandise and recognizing the various departments in a grocery-store setting. The students will learn social skills as well as organizational abilities, money skills and customer service.

I believe this learning experience not only will benefit my students in their daily lives by giving them independence, but also will help them adapt to the community. I really am looking forward to seeing the new abilities they learn, because ultimately their success is my reward.

Dory Chamas, who earned her master’s degree in special education from Arizona State University, teaches our high-school classroom at Gompers Private School.

Annual fishing trip has been ‘amazing’ event for 31 years

Today in Gompers’ hallways, the story is about the one that didn’t get away as members talked about their trout-fishing experience in Sedona this weekend.

“I liked catching a big fish, and it was a good time,” Gompers member Oriana Sanchez said, spreading her hands 10 inches apart to indicate the size of her catch. “It was fun.”

“I could feel the fish wiggle on the line,” added Adam Gabriel, another of 27 individuals with developmental disabilities who went on the trip. “I enjoyed the day a lot.”

approaching sedona

Sponsored by the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Lions Club, the annual trip to Sedona’s Rainbow Trout Farm has occurred every October for the past 31 years. Every year, it is the goal to take a group of members from Gompers — including participants from its Day Training Program, Employment Services and Private School — who have not previously enjoyed the experience.

trout ready to grill cropped

“It’s a great event and both our members and staff look forward to it every year,” noted Gompers Director of Programs and Services Scott Muller, who oversaw this year’s trip. “The Lions volunteers were gracious as they always are in welcoming our people, and they grilled the freshly caught trout for everyone to enjoy at lunch.”

“I liked catching my fish, but I ate a hot dog instead,” Gabriel added.

Lunch was followed by team games like the three-legged race, sack race and a egg-and-spoon race before Gompers’ member said their goodbyes and returned home.

“This is one of the highlights of our year,” noted Jim Graif, a Lions Club member who organizes the annual event. “We owe a big ‘thank you’ to Sedona’s Rainbow Trout farm, which donates use of its facility each year for this outing.”

chris masters egg race cropped

Gompers member Christopher masters the egg-and-spoon race.

“We cannot thank the Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Lions Club enough for the amazing job they do in organizing this event every year, and for the care and dedication they show to our members,” Gompers Executive Director Mark Jacoby said. “This event means so much to everyone at Gompers but, to be honest, sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s enjoying themselves more: Gompers’ staff and members, or the Lions Club.

“It is hard to believe that the fishing trip has been going for more than 30 years and yet the Lions Club always finds a way to make each year’s event more special than the year before.”

Free Estate Planning Workshops

Is writing your will or planning for your estate something on your “To Do” list that never gets checked off?

If so, a series of free workshops next week are just right for you.

Thirteen local nonprofits, including Gompers, have come together to provide this free community education to help you:

  1. understand if you need only a Will or if a Trust is right for you;
  2. plan for the long-term security of your family and loved ones and, if you are philanthropically minded;
  3. show you ways to support your favorite nonprofits through your estate.

The workshops are led by respected attorneys from Morris, Hall & Kinghorn, PLLC, Gammage & Burnham, PLC and McNemar Law  Offices, PC. Find a workshop convenient for you by clicking on our Leave a Legacy Free Workshops Overview.

Topics to be discussed at every workshop include:

  • Covering Your Assets; a Practical Guide to Asset Protection
  • What You’ve Always Wanted to Ask an Attorney, But Didn’t Want to Pay For
  • Split Your Interest with Your Favorite Charity and Your Family, Not Uncle Sam

Ready to sign up now!

RSVP today at Planned Giving Roundtable of Arizona by clicking here.