Lincoln Clients work towards independence

By Claudia S. Palma
Staff Writer

Miguel Moreno polishes a desk at Royal Business Bank in San Gabriel Thursday Oct. 29, 2009.

(pictured above) Miguel Moreno polishes a desk at Royal Business Bank in San Gabriel Thursday Oct. 29, 2009. Moreno is a client of Lincoln Training Center in South El Monte. (Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)

(pictured below) Jerry Espinosa with buffer-stripper cleaning floor while Ramon Gonzales who is mopping the floor at Royal Business Bank in San Gabriel Thursday October 29, 2009. Jerry Espinosa and Ramon Gonzales are employees of Lincoln Training Center in South El Monte. Lincoln Training Center is celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The center partners with local businesses to employ hundreds of adults with disabilities so they can live more independent and productives lives. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Walt Mancini/Highlander)
Miguel Moreno polishes a desk in back while Hector Zarate vacuums at Royal Business Bank in San Gabriel Thursday October 29. They are both clients of Lincoln Training Center in South El Monte. (Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)

Jerry Espinosa with buffer-stripper cleaning floor while Ramon Gonzales who is mopping the floor at Royal Business Bank in San Gabriel Thursday October 29, 2009. Miguel Moreno polishes a desk in back while Hector Zarate vacuums at Royal Business Bank in San Gabriel Thursday October 29.

Michael Garcia says work has “its moments,” but he enjoys it.

“My favorite thing is packaging footballs,” he said.

The El Monte resident, like other members of the working class, is just trying to get by in this tough economy. But the 41-year-old is not quite like other workers.

Garcia was born prematurely, and his mother was told the newborn wouldn’t live through the night.

He survived that first night but he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and, again, his mother was given a grim prediction: He wouldn’t be able to do anything in his life, the doctors told her.

He proved them wrong.

With the help of Lincoln Training Center in South El Monte, Garcia is working and earning a paycheck, bonuses, vacation pay and workers compensation.

Most importantly, he is independent and handles his own finances.

“(Lincoln) helped me find my own ground and my own balance,” said Garcia, who has been a Lincoln Training Center client for eight years.

Garcia is just one of hundreds of adults with disabilities whom the nonprofit organization has helped since it was founded 45 years ago.

“This is one of our jewels (in the city),” said South El Monte Councilman Louie Aguinaga at Lincoln’s open house on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Lincoln is an accredited training facility founded by eight mothers who sought employment opportunities for their children after graduating from Lincoln School in San Gabriel.

The group started in a small building on the Lincoln School property with only 10 trainees. Now the center occupies a 32,000-square-foot facility.

The center also opened two offices in Roseville and Fresno.

Lincoln’s clients have varying degrees of mental, physical or emotional disabilities.

Through Lincoln’s base program, the Production Services Department, clients learn new skills while earning a paycheck. They provide subcontract work for more than 150 customers and companies nationally and internationally.

“The whole idea is to offer vocational training,” said Thomas Barnese, a Lincoln sales representative. “Our goal is to put them into the community, so we try to groom them to where their talent lies.”

Barnese looks for companies needing production work to contract with Lincoln, which provides the service at their facility.

“We don’t bring in a job unless we know we can do it. We don’t want to set up our workers for failure,” said Barnese.

The base program has about 200 worker clients with trained supervisors on hand.

“Our supervisors are trained to be able to properly handle a variety of issues (with the clients), such as behavioral or communicating with sign language,” said Barnese.

Lehn Tenedora, rehabilitation counselor at Lincoln, said clients range from those with Down syndrome and autism to those, who are hearing and visually impaired.

“Our clients start in the type of work service that is right for them and will help them achieve their full potential,” she said.

Clients are encouraged to learn various skills to help them progress and eventually find outside work on their own or move to the Supported Employment Program (SEP).

Through SEP, businesses hire Lincoln clients for service positions in the custodial, landscaping, retail, food and other industries.

SEP currently has about 150 clients working at over 35 job sites throughout Southern California.

“When Lincoln started, a lot of employers didn’t understand the capabilities of adults with disabilities,” said Casey Richards, director of community services at Lincoln. “Employers are learning and understanding their value.”

Miguel Moreno of Rosemead began at Lincoln’s base program eight years ago and now works with an SEP crew.

The 30-year-old said he has been with many crews and has learned several skills.

“Now I’m going to school at night to be a mechanic. I always wanted to be a mechanic,” he said.

Moreno, who lives with his mother, said he eventually wants to work at a body shop and get his own place.

A job coach leads each Lincoln crew at job sites.

“I enjoy working with the crew, the clients. This helps them build their self-confidence and build relationships with other clients and co-workers,” said job coach Andy Garcia.

Garcia and Moreno’s crew were recently doing custodial work at a Royal Business Bank branch in San Gabriel.

Bank owner and Lincoln board member Alan Thian said he’s always looking for other ways to help Lincoln besides fundraising. He decided to give SEP a try.

“I heard a lot of compliments (about the service) but I wanted to be sure it was up to standards, so I came to the bank and the staff saw the way the crew did and said they did extremely good,” said Thian.

That is exactly what Joe Longoria, operations manager at Georg Fischer Signet LLC, has done.

Longoria’s El Monte plant, part of an international sales and manufacturing company, specializes in the piping department of the company.

The company started contracting with Lincoln about 14 years ago through their production line.

“I heard about their SE program and wanted to explore it,” said Longoria. “The Lincoln client staff add to our company’s culture, and it’s positive.”

The company now has 12 Lincoln clients working at the plant regularly, along with the 75 regular Signet employees, doing a variety of assembly work.

For Longoria, working with Lincoln is meaningful, but as a business man in a tough economy, he makes sure to keep his eye on the bottom line.

“The prices for production are extremely competitive with Lincoln,” he said. “I have a commitment to my stakeholders and would not be doing this if it didn’t make good business sense.”

Longoria believes more attention needs to be brought to the work that Lincoln and groups like them are doing for adults with disabilities.

“Without organizations like Lincoln, there would be more adults fully dependent on the State for financial resources, with no means of any growth and future,” he added.

“To be honest, 14 years ago we were skeptical but we gave it a chance, and since have benefitted in so many ways,” Longoria said.

For more information on Lincoln, call (800) 949-4582 or visit www.lincolntc.org