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Autism hasn’t stopped her from being exemplary employee

It could have seemed that Dancing Beads owner Carol Garfield was simply doing a good deed by offering a job in her busy downtown shop to a Medford woman with a developmental disability. But seeing employee Glenda Van Ortwrick engaged as a member of Garfield’s team proves she couldn’t have hand-picked a better employee.

Now just weeks from her two-year anniversary with the downtown Medford shop, Van Ortwick, who is on the autism spectrum, was quiet and reserved for a short time when she first began. With two years under her belt, she is confident in her work and engaging with co-workers and in her personal life.

Ironically, said Garfield, what was deemed a chance for her to provide an opportunity for a new hire ultimately proved an even bigger blessing for her own business.

Trained, placed and then coached through services provided by Ackley Counseling & Employment Services (ACES) and Living Opportunities, Van Ortwick has tackled finding suitable employment, learned new tasks and set out to expand her horizons since she began at Dancing Beads.

Garfield said the initial plan was to allow job coaches to utilize her hands-on shop to teach job skills and assess types of skills.

What she ended up with was a sneak preview of the woman who would become like part of Garfield’s work family and a diligent worker with reliability and extreme attention to detail.

Sorting thousands of tiny beads and creating labels Thursday, Van Ortwick said she was happy to have a job she enjoyed as much as her employer enjoyed having her on board.

Van Ortwick commended her caseworkers from Living Opportunities and with ACES for helping people train for — and find — needed jobs.

“I liked to do crafts and things like this to begin with, so they helped me find this job. I’ve got a good eye for detail,” she said.

“So I learned how to sort the beads and how to make labels. I get to play with all the beads. I think it’s really good that they help people with developmental disabilities to find jobs.”

Garfield said Van Ortwick has performed beyond her expectations for any employee.

“I had worked with Living Opportunities before, so I was open to them bringing her in to just do some job coaching,” said Garfield.

“After I met her I just knew we were a good fit. I couldn’t let her get away.”

In addition to holding down her job, Van Ortwick has traveled and experienced things she might not have without her gig at the shop.

She swam with dolphins in Mexico, visited Walt Disney World and competed in multiple sports for the Special Olympics, and she hopes to travel as much as possible.

Daryl Ackley, owner of ACES, said Van Ortwick would be “graduating” in coming weeks and be independent of support through job coaching unless she requested additional help.

Ackley said he was excited for Dancing Beads and for Van Ortwick and to show that people with disabilities, with a little help, can live and work just like anyone else.

“That’s a big part of why we don’t do group or crew or sheltered work. We just provide supported individual job placement for folks experiencing intellectual/developmental disabilities,” Ackley said. “Just like anyone else might need, a little guidance and mentoring helped connect Glenda with a job she loved and that would instill confidence.

“We call it career exploration, because it’s really a discovery process — we say to discover your personal genius. We spent a lot of time with Glenda going to various employers and doing tours and interviews to really find out what Glenda loved. When we figured out that she loved arts and crafts, we dropped into Dancing Beads and it ended up being a perfect fit.”

Ackley said having a good job and support system had been a big positive for Van Ortwick.

“When I first met Glenda, we’d be at a meeting and she barely spoke. Once she began working and being in a supportive environment, where the work she’s doing is valued, she’s come out of her shell and really developed as a person. She’s traveled to Mexico and Hawaii. She likes to save her money and go on vacations. She’s putting herself out there.”

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Glenda Van Ortwick sorts beads Tuesday at Dancing Beads in Medford, where she is considered an outstanding employee.