Editor’s note: This is the second article in a five-part series in The Colchester Sun featuring Colchester’s Champlain Community Services, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities find meaningful employment, living conditions and community engagement.
Hands raised above his head, Clyde Bishop walked through the doors of Essex Jct.’s Green Mountain Harley-Davidson last week, excited to work.
Employees instantly smiled and waved back. Bishop made his rounds, giving each of them a hug. By the end of his shift, he’d posed with nearly all of them for a photo, sporting an eager thumbs up in almost every one.
“He does a great job: He comes in, says his hellos and then gets to work,” the store’s general manager and partner, Peter Curless, said of Bishop, a naturally “happy guy.”
Bishop found his place at the motorcycle shop with the help of Colchester’s Champlain Community Services.
Since Bishop is non-verbal, CCS listened to his body language to discover his preferred work environment, passions and interests, said Michelle Paya, director of Way2Work, CCS’ supported employment program.
CCS then finds matches in the local business community. If a client loves pets, CCS will consider animal hospitals, pet retail stores, grooming studios, doggy day cares and more to discover a business’ inefficiencies and where their client could help.
For Bishop, it’s in Harley’s apparel section. Standing among racks of sweatshirts and helmets, he carefully folded a batch of T-shirts. Then another. And then another. He was on a roll.
Despite dexterity issues linked to his intellectual disability, Bishop paid close attention to detail. Using a large folding frame, he lined up the bottom of the shirt, intricately folded it and flipped the board one way, then the other.
Meanwhile, his job coach, Christine Czarny, provided small reminders. The two worked in a seamless fashion, as if they’ve developed their own language over the past year – but in movements.
Bishop communicates with Czarny through hand gestures, head nods and a wide smile.
Throughout Bishop’s one-hour shift, Czarny extended her hand to help Bishop level a shirt from time to time. At one point, Bishop placed his hand on her wrist and gently moved it away.
“That just made my day,” said Ron Turner, an employment specialist and School2Work coordinator, noting a moment like that shows true progress in a quest for independence.
This is essential to CCS’ mission, Paya said. The nonprofit’s goal is not to find just any available employment; it’s to help individuals find their niche in the competitive workforce.
For client Ryan Shumway, CCS helped do just that. At 27, Shumway is a certified child development associate at Lund Family Center in Burlington. Shumway also has Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
Ever since he was young, his mom referred to him as a “baby whisperer.” He puts kids to sleep with ease, calms them down and thoroughly enjoys their presence, he explained.
“I just have a natural gift with kids,” he said on his five-year anniversary last week at the daycare, where he’s an assistant teacher.
The primary teacher in his room agreed.
“He’s phenomenal with the children,” Kiley Kent said. “He’s able to get down on their level and really relate to them. They all form a great attachment to Ryan. He’s so gentle with them and warm.”
The 2007 Essex High School graduate is so passionate about what he does, he plans to continue in this line of work for years to come, he said.
To earn his certification, Shumway diligently studied brain development, nourishment and sleep techniques. He underwent 120 hours of classroom training and spent time working with kids, who often refer to him as “grandpa,” “dada” and sometimes even “grandma,” he joked.
Some parents tell him his name is holy in their households. He’s a namesake at CCS, too.
For CCS clients, their journey is about contributing to the community, acceptance and embodying a can-do mentality, Paya said.
When Bishop motioned for his job coach to take a step back, and when a 55-year-old client hung 12 copies of his first paycheck from his first-ever job in Paya’s office, she’s reminded of the powerful stories her clients create.
As Bishop wrapped up his shift, he sat down with pen and paper to draw a picture for his general manager.
Hiding the picture behind his back, he excitedly walked into Curless’ office to reveal his masterpiece.
Curless’ arms shot above his head in appreciation before he reached into his filing cabinet and pulled out a thick stack of drawings, one from each of Bishop’s shifts at the store.
A trickle of hugs and high fives followed as Bishop made his way out the door, a day’s work complete.
“He has value here,” Turner said. “This is the kind of environment we hope for.”