On Friday morning, light flooded the employee wellness center at Restek Corp., the chromatography supplies manufacturer, reflecting off of spotless treadmills, tidy racks of dumbbells and the young man responsible for the sheen glistening around the room.
“The first thing I do is come in and clean,” Justin Shaffer, 19, said. “I get my cleaning supplies and I clean these two machines first, then I work my way to treadmills and then to the weights.”
He is on his rounds again, wiping down an exercise bike before moving onto a bench. Such is his routine: half-a-day, three days a week, keeping everything clean in the wellness center, in the connecting gym and the multipurpose room to the side. He smiles beneath a No. 22 Joey Logano cap — he’s a big NASCAR fan — before saying he’s saving up the money he earns to buy a side-by-side off-road vehicle.
Shaffer, a senior at Bellefonte Area High School, is the fourth student to go through the joint program between Restek and Skills of Central Pennsylvania, which offers pre-employment training and opportunities for students with disabilities. The program is funded through a grant from the state’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
“The goal is to give students a real work experience while they are still in school,” said Elizabeth Koch, the manager of Skills’ employment services program, “and to better prepare them upon graduation so they’ll have a better idea of what they want to do.”
The program, which began in July, puts students on 90-hour rotations at different sites, where they work with a job coach from Skills, in addition to the employers themselves.
Maren Dotoli, Shaffer’s coach, guides him through the work, though by now she’s mostly hands-off. Shaffer, she says, is a dutiful worker.
“He gets it done all in one shift,” she said. “Justin’s work pace is excellent, so he’s able to complete all his tasks plus get the windows done.”
Shaffer pauses at the praise. So what does he like about working with Dotoli?
“It’s kind of a tough decision,” he said, smiling. “She’s kind of been with me every step of the way.”
Mike Perlozzo, Restek’s wellness coordinator, said Shaffer also helps with vacuuming the rugs and folding towels.
“They do a lot of stuff to help us out and it’s really great,” he said. “Having them here three days a week helping out, it keeps this place looking really good.”
For Koch, the program is not only a way for students to prepare for adulthood, but also a chance to strengthen the community.
“There’s kind of a teaching or awareness component of what people with disabilities can do,” she said, “that they can work these jobs and do more, and it gives people a chance to see that.”