Safeway training opens up working world to those with disabilities

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For most people, the day they landed their first job is a memorable day in their life.

Thanks to a special partnership here in Arizona, the working world is opening up to people who might not have otherwise had the chance -- people like Timothy Willis, who is already thinking about how he can spend that first paycheck.

"I might buy some new games," he said, "since I got an Xbox for Christmas."

While it looked a lot like he was well on his way as we caught up with him inside a well-stocked Safeway store, Timothy is actually just learning about the world of work.

"It is like I haven't done this, I haven't worked for Safeway," he said.

Because the Safeway where he is bagging, sweeping and stocking is not really a Safeway at all.

"Well, where we are really at is Gompers Employment Services office," said Executive Director Mark Jacoby, explaining that Gompers is a training and habilitation center for people with developmental disabilities.

"The individuals we work with have a wide range of disabilities," he said. "We are talking individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome."

And this mini-Safeway is the latest partnership for Gompers helping those with disabilities find their place in the world.

"It is the first chance to understand what does it mean to work at a job for six, seven, eight hours a day? What does it mean to be part of a team?" Jacoby said.

Safeway says it has long realized the value of employees it has hired through Gompers.

"So Safeway is committed to integrating disabled people and giving them solid and secure employment," said Nancy Keane from Safeway. "These employees are loved by our customers. They are an integral part of the work we do each and every day."

But getting employees employment ready does require training.

"It is very thorough training, we leave no stone unturned," Keane said. "And that is invaluable. You want to train people on exactly what they are going to do."

Timothy said he already knows what he wants to do.

"I wanted to be a bagger," he said.

But, he is also learning other tasks. We watched as he learned how to stock shelves, an instructor explaining how to match by picture, UPC codes and sizes, all helping Timothy learn his way to that first paycheck.

"And they can explore those different opportunities and find out what the perfect fit is for them," Keane said. "Thus again ensuring a long successful career with Safeway."

And Timothy couldn't be happier.

"I am very excited," he said with a grin.

Safeway has no expectations of what students can or cannot do. Instead, students' interests and own abilities are the guide to which jobs they will apply for.