Employment Club ekes out ‘meaningful’ work

KAPA‘A — Dave Jordan, the vocational coordinator for Friendship House, said the goal of the Employment Club is to always aim for “meaningful work.”

On Thursday, the Friendship House Employment Club celebrated its second anniversary with Debi Matsumoto and Lane Shigeta of the state’s vocational rehabilitation program.

“We have about 36 to 38 people participating in the weekly meetings,” Matsumoto, an employment services specialist, said. “Currently, there are 14 people, or about 48 percent, who have employment.”

Matsumoto said during the weekly meetings, Friendship House members gather to go over events of the week and discuss other aspects of gaining employment.

“Everyone here shares,” Matsumoto said. “The program has been pretty successful because these are a bunch of hustlers.”

Jordan said discussions always focus on jobs including discussion on resumes, applications and interview skills.

“I am happy to be here,” said Friendship House member Mildred, who got help from Matsumoto in translating through signing. “There was a lot to learn about jobs.”

Mildred is one of the success stories from the Employment Club, gaining employment at the Kaua‘i Kookie Kompany following a successful transitional employment program.

Iris Ijima, a Friendship House counselor,  in the September newsletter, describes the job as a dance — an assembly-line type job which entails sealing bags, making boxes, boxing cookies, and labeling and loading the boxes onto a pallet.

“It’s pretty impressive to watch the people who work in the factory,” Ijima said. “The pace is fast and everyone knows when to jump stations and fill in on the assembly line when needed. It’s quite a dance.”

Mildred, a member since 1988 when she was unemployed and living in a care home, started the transitional employment program in 2001 and at the end of the program was offered a permanent position.

Currently, she lives in her own apartment, is a member of the Deaf Club and socializes with friends outside of the (Friendship) clubhouse.

Charlie Song is another “long-time” employee of the St. Michael and All Angels Church in Lihu‘e where he is in charge of keeping the grounds groomed as its groundskeeper.

Another club member said he currently works “cash jobs” as a landscaper, having two jobs, one in Kalaheo and one in Wailua, but is looking for more hours and more jobs in Kapa‘a so he can move out and become more independent.

“The goal of the Friendship House Employment Club is always meaningful employment,” said Jordan. “Even when the members aren’t working, they’re doing things around the clubhouse which benefit the program and other members. It’s all about doing meaningful work.”

Dacia Mayfield is an artist who said she approached the vocational rehabilitation people about the prospect of starting her own business, relying on her skill at creating cards.

Walter Lastimosa said he’s currently working at Olympic Cafe three days a week, primarily as a dishwasher but doing other work, including handling the freight and produce deliveries.

Jordan said Friendship House currently works with about 15 to 20 employers in the community with its vocational programs including the transitional employment programs, but is always looking for more employers.

“We have people who have the skill and the desire to work,” Jordan said.

Thursday, these members took time to reflect on the two years of the partnership with the state’s vocational rehabilitation department.

“Solid!” said Kurt Nagata, who has been in recovery for 37 years. “Mahalo, Lane and Debi. Vocational rehabilitation rocks because without its support, we would have a very hard time getting jobs.”

Ijima said while out working with Mildred, she has the opportunity to watch her work.

“I’m glad that I still have the privilege of being able to work side-by-side with a colleague (and) am grateful for the support I get from her while I try to cover the job,” she said, “and I also marvel at how far she’s come in life. It’s a wonderful dance, indeed.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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