A few years ago, the relationship likely would have played out differently: Instead of having people with developmental disabilities working on site, Simple Times Mixers would have exported some of its production to a nearby ARC Industries workshop.
That’s how Simple Times owner Mark Tinus envisioned things when he first spoke with Dave King, director of career services at ARC Industries. “Dave said, ‘Well, we really don’t do that anymore,’” Tinus said.
Tinus, whose local company makes handcrafted, all-natural cocktail mixes, soon learned about the nationwide shift away from sheltered workshops, which some advocates consider segregated settings. Federal policymakers began pushing for the change several years ago; temporary program closures and work stoppages during the pandemic pretty much completed the process in Franklin County.
“The old method would be for companies to bring their work to our place,” said Bob Gaston, CEO of ARC Industries. “Now, we go there.”
ARC, a program of the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities until 2019, now is a separate organization that provides supportive services to people with developmental disabilities. It no longer has any workshop production or sub-minimum wage work, Gaston said. ARC offers a range of habilitation and vocational opportunities, from competitive and group employment in the community to job training and soft-skills development.
“Our mantra is, ‘If you want to work, we’ll find it for you,’” Gaston said.
At Simple Times, working with ARC has allowed the company to further diversify its workforce and contribute to expanded opportunities for people with disabilities. “There are a lot more people seeking employers who are purpose- and community-driven,” Tinus said. “It reframes the way everybody walks in the door. If you’re not impressed by what this program is, then you probably don’t belong inside these walls.”
Simple Times is a wonderful partner, King said, and embraces the notion of inclusive employment. “Culture is one of the big things we’re looking for. Our folks are part of the team there, which is just what you want,” he said.
Kyle McLean, who is served by FCBDD, said he enjoys his work at Simple Times Mixers. “I’m trouble, but in a good way,” he joked.
McLean has had many jobs over the years and says he always strives to be productive. He feels better when he knows he’ll be out in the community. “I’m a guy who likes to work,” he said. “I’m not a guy who likes to sit on his rear, watch TV and be alone all day.”
McLean’s mom, Carla May, said she can easily see the positive difference in her son’s life since ARC linked him to the Gahanna-based company. “This job has been so good for Kyle,” said May, an FCBDD service coordinator.
ARC is focused on connecting with more employers willing to learn how they, as well as people with disabilities, can benefit. “We know there’s interest,” said Amanda Smith, chief services officer at ARC. “Educating these employers, and finding those that are open to this, is an opportunity.”