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Earning, learning on a job

Firm gives disables an opportunity to do both
By Linda Helser (The Arizona Republic)
July 21st, 2004

Never have the chrome rims on Gloria Valle's red Cutlass looked so shiny, thanks to Dorothy Dale, who wiped them clean with a soft cloth, over and over again until they sparkled.

James Cohrs and Paul Anderson assemble a bench at Stepping Forward Vocational in Phoenix, which hires the mentally and physically handicapped.
At least not unless you count the last time Valle wheeled her auto into the Special Touch Carwash, a suds and polish enterprise staffed by mentally ill, developmentally or physically disabled adults like Dale.

A regular at the 1102 E. Indian School Road car bath, the 57 year-old Valle said she keeps returning mot just for the slick wash and polish jobs but the sweet and caring washers, as well.

“Dorothy blows me kisses” said Valle,  a phoenix nurse, who stopped into the carwash last week, just hours after the first major dust storm of the season blew through the valley. "These people always have a smile on their face and it makes me feel good just coming here”

It works for the 44-year old Dale too.

Asked if she gives special treatment to longtime favorite customers like Valle, who pays $4.95 for a wash and dry and $29.95 for a wax and Dale hardly took time for a breath.

“I do for everybody the same,” she said as she worked her cloth into every tiny crevice of the left front rim.

That kind of fairness and focus to detail is what makes workers like Dale such valuable employees at Special Touch, A business owned by the Tungland Corp. that's open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Saturday.

A for-profit corporation founded in 1983, Tungland uses tools such as the carwash to provide on the job training for their adult clients, teaching them not only the skills but appropriate behavior, work habits and attitudes.

For their trouble, clients enjoy a moderate paycheck averaging between $4 and $6.50 and hour and a major boost to their self-esteem.

“A lot of vocational (programs) just have them screwing nuts and bolts together but they're not learning any skill from that.” Said Theresa Gabrielson, 31, an administrator at Tungland who managed the carwash for four years.

“We want to actually teach them a skill so that maybe they can move on and get a job in the community.”

Dorthy Dale polishes the wheel rims of a car while Doricy Wimbish cleans the windshield at Special Touch Hand Carwash.
A few minutes away, at the Stepping Forward Vocational Center at Osborn Road and the 20th Street. Another enterprise of Tungland, a half dozen or more challenged clients are near the entrance, stuffing products into plastic door hangers bags for private businesses that contract for that service.

Other clients who work out of this center comprise crews for a landscaping service that mows, trims, rakes and hauls debris while still other distribute advertising fliers to residences for local businesses.

In the rear, another half dozen clients are refurbishing or another building from scratch furniture items that will be including in a giant sale Sept 2-3 hat will be open to the public.

“We do a sale about once every two or three months here at the site” said Alex Genereaux, 34, an assistant director at Tungland.

As Paul Anderson, 25 sanded off the rough edges of an Adirondack chair, he talked about how his job with Tungland has enhanced his life.

“Its really good to learn woodworking skills because you never know if you can get a job building pool tables or other hand crafts,” said Anderson, who lives in a Tungland residential group home.

Proud of his work, Anderson is even more delighted with his most recent paycheck, slipping it out of his shirt pocket and showing it off without hesitation.

“I'd like to take a trip to California with it,” he said.  “Or get another tattoo.”

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