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Roger Garza

Roger Garza keeps ‘em coming back for more. “We have guests who plan and budget for one special lunch out every week. For many, they make their lunch plans around Roger’s work schedule to make sure they get to see him,” said Brian Boylan, Area Director for the Applebee’s Grill + Bar Restaurant.

Like many of his colleagues participating in our Unicorn Centers’ Community Employment and Job Coach Program, Roger arrives early to work each day, often well before his shift starts and hits the ground running.  His responsibilities include measuring out single portions of food, making French Fries, and putting away supplies. In fact, when a new hire is welcomed to the team, it is Roger who gives the new hire a tour of the kitchen and shows them exactly where everything is stored.

Roger is 60 years old and has lived with autism his entire life.  Schedules, structure and predictability are important tools that Roger, his family, teachers and now employers use to help him remain confident, comfortable and productive.  We all work more productively when we have a calendar and schedule that we can count on. Helping people with autism and IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) live, work and function with strict schedules and in familiar physical environments is even more important to their success on the job and their ability to live mo

re independently.

Among the most common symptoms of IDD is anxiety. People with IDD experience levels of anxiety that are significantly higher than anxiety that ‘neurotypical’ people feel. For people living with autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc., anxiety can quickly escalate to fear when they experience significant change in their daily schedule, their transportation routes, even change in the arrangement of furniture in their home – or arrangement of supplies and equipment in their workplace.

This is something that Stephen Martinez, a job coach at Unicorn Centers, knows a lot about.  “Among the first and most important lessons I can share with supervisors is to understand the critical importance of a predictable schedule and consistent storage plan to their new employee with IDD. It is a simple lesson that allows the people in my care to be immediately successful and stay successful for years,” Stephen said.

Stephen and his job coach colleagues also help employers understand the idea of ‘repetitive success’ for employees with IDD. Roger learned early how to carefully weigh raw potatoes, keep the temperature of the cooking oil consistent and strictly control the number of minutes the potatoes fry in the oil. Once he mastered this routine, he can consistently fry potatoes to perfection every single time. The pay off? Applebee’s guests know for sure that their French Fries will be perfect at every single visit.

Roger’s consistency translates to profitability for Applebee’s. He is a profit center – words every business leader likes to hear! Roger provides value to his employer. He provides a consistent, dependable and quality product. He keeps customers coming back. Applebee’s makes money.  The American Way.

Job coaches are diligent and committed. Just like athletic and life coaches in our own lives, Unicorn Centers job coaches provide the people in their care guidance, assurance and training. Our job coaches provide strategic assistance from the very beginning. They help identify what kind of work a person enjoys – working with animals, working with food, etc. They help design specific job training and lessons for the goal job, help write resumes, practice interviewing and speaking to employers and stand beside them all the way. Unicorn Centers even keeps a closet of professional clothing that is donated to people for interviews, meetings and regular workdays. Once an individual is successfully hired, our coaches are right by their side for on-the-job training – providing smart tools and strategies to make sure they are successful from Day One.

Our coaches support and advocate for the people in their care throughout the entirety of the person’s employment. For some people, like Roger, the partnership, friendship and trust can last 20 years and longer! The people in our care know they can count on and turn to their job coach any day and any time. Stephen has provided comfort and assurance to Roger on several occasions – in person and over the phone. Stephen will drop everything and hurry to Applebee’s if the need is urgent. Stephen is the friendly voice that offers words of encouragement at just the right time. In fact, Stephen will advocate for Roger and others when they are interested in and deserving of a promotion or raise.

As a job coach, Stephen is also an asset to employers. Stephen helps business owners identify and ‘carve out’ tasks that are often difficult to keep filled – jobs that neurotypical people often consider tedious, forcing employers to recruit and hire over and over again. Furthermore, these are tasks that can be completed in just a few hours each week. These are jobs that are ideal for people with IDD.

People like Roger are looking for a job with a lot of predictability that can be accomplished in approximately 10-15 hours each week. What does he do when he is not working? During the balance of his week, Roger stays productive as a participant our Unicorn Centers Day Activity and Vocational Training Programs – socializing with friends, participating in community outings and keeping his job skills sharp in our on-site Training Center.

Roger is one of more than 100 people with IDD served by the Community Employment and Job Coach program at Unicorn Centers. These are hard working adults with special skills, unique gifts and a remarkable dedication to their employers. They are respected members of our business community. Having jobs mean that they are fully included – thanks to YOU, their employers and their Unicorn Centers Job Coaches who help them FIND, GET & KEEP their jobs.