Garden Center Services Supports Individuals with Disabilities to Gain Employment

By Kristin Boza∼

For area residents with developmental or intellectual disabilities, Garden Center Services, 10444 S. Kedzie Ave., offers a Supported Employment Program to pair them with local businesses looking for employees.

“This is a creative approach to employment for people with disabilities and a valuable resource for local businesses,” said Gerry Beagles, executive director of Garden Center Services. “Employees receive individualized job skills training and on-the-job support to ensure their performance meets employer expectation and encourages job retention.”

An important aspect of the program is the job coach provided by Garden Center Services at no cost to the employer. This coach works side-by-side with the employee until he or she is able to complete the job on their own.

Current program participants are employed as receptionists, clerical support staff, direct care aides, printing machine operator, and kitchen/dining room clean-up and set-up staff. “Once a business identifies what their needs are, the employment coordinator will train and coach a selected individual to strengthen the requisite skills,” Beagles said.

Garden Center Services’ Kedzie Day Program opened at its current location in the spring of 2012, and is one of three locations where individuals with disabilities can participate in developmental training. The program relies heavily on following the lead of the participants and focusing on their interests and input in four categories: Life skills, leisure, art and micro-business.

Garden Center Services used to place individuals in community jobs through a Department of Rehabilitation Services grant, but the grant became unfunded. “Many of our participants have the skills and desire to be employed in the community, and because of the incredibly supportive culture we have encountered throughout the 19th Ward, we have dedicated some of our state and donor funding to make this happen,” Beagles said. “We are very excited to work with some of the local businesses and make our connections in the community even stronger.”

Every adult supported by the Garden Center Services is eligible to participate in the program, and every licensed employer in good standing is eligible to hire them.

“We have a number of individuals who deserve a competitive job and who demonstrate a variety of skills that are needed in the work place,” Beagles said.

To start the hiring process, employers are asked to develop a list of tasks and responsibilities. Next, the employer will work with a Garden Center Services employment coordinator to choose a program participant who would be a good fit for the position. “As the person becomes an employee, they will be compensated at an hourly wage equal to or better than the established minimum wage for the municipality,” Beagles said.

Businesses that employ the program participants will be getting a solid employee dedicated to the job. “Our individuals are eager to work, very dependable, can focus on a task without being distracted, and respond well to feedback,” Beagles said. “We have been told by employers that having one of our individuals on staff is motivating to their other employees and that the workplace becomes lighter and more productive. Your customers and neighborhood realize that you are truly committed to creating a work environment that supports a diverse and inclusive community.”

The Super Sunny 5K, an event that benefits adults with intellectual disabilities at Garden Center Services, will be held Sat., June 4, 8:30 a.m., Newcastle Park, Burbank. Info and registration:

Garden Center Services is in the process of holding meetings with Beverly Hills/Morgan Park businesses. To learn more about the hiring process for your business, contact Tammy Ingraffia, community employment coordinator, 708-398-6578 or



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