Griffin Carlsen just started working for the electronic recycling company, Blue Star Recyclers, this January. For him, going to work is more than just a job.
"This feels like a nice place to start," said Carlsen.
Carlsen is learning lots of new skills through his position.
"I've gotten better at talking to people, greeting customers and doing the front-end stuff. To me, communication is a big thing to learn and get accustomed to being on the spectrum," says Carlsen.
Danny Hennesy is in his ninth year at the company. He gets a lot of satisfaction from being able to earn an income for his hobbies like going to hockey games, but he also loves getting to talk with people.
"It's really cool to see their faces, to know that I feel great that there's a recycling place where I can recycle," says Hennesy.
Both of them had trouble finding jobs before their time at Blue Star. According to the CEO of Cheyenne Village, a local non-profit that helps house adults with developmental disabilities, this isn't unusual. It might just be the status quo.
"You know a lot of it depends on the individual and what they're capable of doing," says Tim Cunningham.
Cunningham has been working in the industry for over 30 years. He said that it's always been a struggle for those with disabilities to get their foot in the door.
"You know, sometimes they have difficulties filling out the job applications, they need someone to go help them with the job interviews, sometimes they may not dress appropriately," says Cunningham.
But the fault does not lie solely with these individuals. Rather, he says, culture has an outdated mindset.
"I think a lot of it is the stigma attached to having an intellectual or developmental disability. A lot of people don't understand that they're just as capable of working as we are. That they're very reliable, and a lot of times they're better employees than so-called 'normal people.'"
That's what Carlsen and Hennesy's employer, Blue Star Recyclers, has been trying to combat in the industry. Its mission since 2009 has been recycling second, helping first.
"Our mission is to create as many jobs as we can for folks with autism and other disabilities. And that's really the main goal for everything that we do," says CEO Sam Morris.
The company was so successful in Colorado Springs that they now have branches in Denver, Boulder, and Chicago.
"I think there's a lot of focus on deficits when it comes to employing folks with disabilities, and really all we're focused on is their assets," says Morris. "In the 12 years we've been doing this, we've seen that folks with disabilities have been exemplary employees."
Morris thinks that people with disabilities could help provide a great solution to the job market where so many companies are looking for new hires.
"What we've found is that our folks are incredibly good at step-by-step systematic work, so I think just about every company out there has those same kinds of jobs."
At the end of the day, Carlsen and Hennesy are happy with their jobs. Fulfilling work, expendable income, and friendly faces make it all worth it.
Hennesy says, "We like to play around, joke around, but we can still get our work done".
"I like it so far, the people are really nice, and they're open to questions and there's still plenty to learn, but there are lots of things to do. Lots of things to recycle," says Carlsen.
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