JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A new job program in Jacksonville is changing the lives of some people with developmental disabilities.
It's all thanks to a partnership between the Arc Jacksonville, an organization that helps those with special needs, and Fields Auto Group, a Jacksonville-based auto dealer.
The two organizations are working together to train and hire individuals with intellectual and learning disabilities and help them become independent members of the workforce.
Cassidey Faulconer has been greeting and helping customers at one of Fields Auto Group's dealerships for the past four months. In the current job market, she said, it's tough to find work because of her disability. She said people tend to treat her differently.
But since taking part in the program, Faulconer said her life has changed for the better. "It's so important to me because...not only do I have a job now, I get to pay my own bills, I get to be independent and meet new people and just be myself," she told News4Jax.
Like Faulconer, the Arc helped connect Jamaal Stroud with a paying job working for Fields Auto Group. He told News4Jax he loves working for the dealership, adding that his job keeps him busy doing things like vacuuming vehicles. As an added bonus, he said, it also pays well.
"I love it here," Stroud said.
The program got its start four years ago when Wade Pritchett was offered an opportunity to work as a paid greeter at Mercedes-Benz of Jacksonville. Back then, the dealership had different ownership, but Fields continued the program when it took over the dealership.
Pritchett trained and worked hard, proving himself as a valuable employee. Since Fields came into the picture, they've expanded the program. Now, the auto group employs nine people who belong to the Arc organization.
"I'm very proud to be here," Pritchett said. "I love cars and I like to get all dressed up."
Garry Redig, vice president of Fields Auto Group, told News4Jax it's not just the employees who get a lot of out of this program. He said the auto group benefits from the experience that these employees bring to the table.
"It means a whole lot to them and I'll tell what, I think we get a better sense of the relationship and we benefit greater than they do," Redig said. "They have been a wonderful asset to Fields Auto Group."
More than 40 local employers work with the Arc Jacksonville to provide paying jobs to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities -- and they encourage more business to get involved.
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