Kennedy, Osten highlight success of Arc of New London County's lawn and landscaping business
Norwich — Andrew McGee, 20, said his favorite part of working as a member of The Arc of New London County's Lawn and Landscaping business is being outside.
24-year-old Kevin Cutsinger said he enjoys the different equipment and being around people.
State Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., D-Branford, and state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, visited the Norwich Fish and Game Association on Monday to meet McGee and Cutsinger and other participants and learn about them and their work. The senators' visit was in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
The team had just finished mowing the grass and landscaping the property at the Norwich Fish and Game Association, one of several properties in the area that the crew landscapes.
"You guys do an awesome job," Alexis Laffey, the secretary of the Norwich Fish and Game Association, said to the crew. "Thank you very much."
The Lawn and Landscaping Team is one of The Arc of New London County's microbusinesses that provides employment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and training for them to move on in the future to other jobs in the community. Other microbusinesses include a farm stand and a cookie factory, whose chocolate chip cookies are sold in locations around the region.
Kennedy thanked the Norwich Fish and Game Association and other businesses for giving people an opportunity.
"I just want to say thank you, because we need to get the word out in the business community that there are a lot of businesses that employ people with disabilities that provide amazing service, but also a double bottom line with opportunites for people with disabilities who want to work just like everybody else," he said.
Kathleen Stauffer, chief executive officer of The Arc of New London County, said the agency is committed to not only placing people in jobs, proving that one can have a successful business and employing people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, but also to changing people's views.
"If I have intellectual and developmental disabilities, and I make the best cookie that you've ever eaten, then your view of my ability has changed," she said.
While state law would allow the organization to apply for a waiver to pay participants sub-minimum wage, The Arc of New London County pays them minimum wage, said Stauffer.
"That gives the workers a sense of pride because they get the same level of pay as anybody else around them," Osten said.
Osten also praised the work that is done at The Arc's stand in Ledyard, a town in her district that has an aquaponics system.
The Arc of New London County has one of the largest employment centers in Connecticut and teaches individuals skills, including technology and social media skills, said Stauffer. Twenty-seven people are employed through the microbusiness program alone, and the organization further places people in jobs around the region, Stauffer said.
During the visit, Job Coach Tim Bates said that The Arc of New London talks to individuals and places them in the employment opportunities where they want to be.
"It's what their dreams are and what they want to do, and these people ask what they want and these guys get what they ask for," he said.
Kennedy said he felt it's very important to give people self-determination and allow them to be able to choose what they want to be in their own lives.
Staff at The Arc of New London County and Kathryn Lord, the director of the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation, which has assisted The Arc of New London County in getting more equipment as the lawn crew expands, also visited on Monday.
"I think you guys are doing a great job here," Kennedy said to Stauffer at the end. "I think this is a model that we can expand to other parts of the state — and the country, for that matter."
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