Mitchell Rucker and his colleagues with developmental disabilities enthusiastically scrub toilets, steam-clean floors and meticulously make sure no hair is left un-vacuumed in their Ewa Beach client’s home.
Rucker, 20, is one of five employees who are part of an Easter Seals Hawaii work-force development program for adults with developmental disabilities such as mild autism and Down syndrome. The program promotes independence and job skills.
The work has been fulfilling for Rucker.
"It helps me out in socializing and getting along with other people," Rucker said. "I like to help other people meet their goals. If they have a hard time with a job, I like helping them out."
In April, Easter Seals Hawaii launched the professional house cleaning and grocery shopping service — Holoi (meaning "to wash" in Hawaiian) Work Crew — as a bridge to integrate clients into the work force. Services are more than half off market prices, averaging about $50 per month for general cleaning, compared with the average $100 to $200 market price.
The work helps to build the character and self-esteem of the participants, according to Lori Lutu, Easter Seals’ Oahu Home and Community Based Services manager.
"The benefit of the program is to really help them live meaningful lives," she said. "People find meaning in having a job, making their own money and being able to live independently."
Rucker said his favorite part of the job is completing his own time sheet, which gives him a sense of independence.
"I get paid and save my money to be more independent," he said.
While employees typically work just a few hours a week, the ultimate goal of the program is that participants eventually will be able to work longer hours and secure other employment in the community.
The group works with clients to create customized menus of services that include everything from cleaning living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms to laundry and even grocery shopping. They make their own schedules and an Easter Seals staff member oversees each job.
The group members, who get paid an hourly wage, have seven regular clients. They typically have two jobs a week, averaging two hours per job. Easter Seals doesn’t disclose the individual salaries of the work group participants.
All have gone through extensive service and safety training, including how to lift and bend correctly and to thoroughly clean homes, as well as arriving on time and being professional with clients.
"It’s a real business with real goals and they keep their own appointments, inventory and time sheets," said Lisa Ontai, who represents Easter Seals.
The crew is the first for Easter Seals, which hopes to build new teams as business ramps up.
As with typical employers, workers in Easter Seals’ adult day health program were required to fill out an application, interview and go through the same extensive training required of all Easter Seals employees.
"It’s a training ground for the participants and also a great service for people who need their homes cleaned," Ontai said.
Some crew members, like Rucker, already have other jobs. He’s worked at the Fort Shafter commissary for nearly four years, bagging groceries and carting them for customers.
To accommodate their skill levels, there are picture icons in their work folders to remind them of a particular client’s needs, the cleaning products they must load into their caddies and in what order the work should be done. The visual cues describe each step of the process, beginning with the client contract.
"They really value their job," Lutu said. "Things like these visual icons are all adaptations you can make in the environment that can help them be very successful."
Easter Seals received a $75,000 grant from Safeway Inc. to launch the program, which is also subsidized by fundraisers such as the upcoming Gingerbread Family Festival on Dec. 5.
"In the beginning I was kind of hesitant," said Ewa Beach client Cheryl Collins, who hired the cleaning crew when health problems made it difficult for her to do her own cleaning. "I’m so glad I gave them the opportunity because it’s a big help. It takes a lot for me to do those things without tiring myself out. They do a wonderful job."