A Gift to The Community
Employment opportunities return to the Capitol
By Jessica Laskey
When the gift shop in the California State Capitol Museum reopens, it will be more than a welcome return of eclectic merchandise. The reopening of Capitol Books & Gifts means employment for clients of the Developmental Disabilities Service Organization.
All purchases made at the gift shop support the programs of the disabilities group, an award-winning nonprofit that provides more than 400 adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities with job training, employment opportunities, arts programming, life-skill building and social interaction. The organization’s Employment Plus program matches clients with jobs that fit skill levels and interests.
“This population wants so much to be treated like everyone else but is accustomed to being discriminated against,” says Stacey Hilton, manager of Capitol Books & Gifts. “They therefore work even harder and go the extra mile to have the same opportunities and choices as you and me.”
Hilton hired two DDSO clients, Jeffrey and Joann, to work at the gift shop. Fair Oaks resident Jeffrey was hired in 2019 as a clerk, assisting sales associates with customer service, stocking merchandise, and promoting products and services to legislators and their staff as the gift shop’s ambassador.
Oak Park resident Joann began as an inventory clerk in 2017 and is in charge of receiving inventory, counting stock, reporting damaged goods, and tagging and packaging merchandise.
“Jeffrey and Joann are both extremely hardworking, dedicated, diligent fast learners and eager to perform,” Hilton says.
“Words (that come) to mind when I think of Jeffrey and Joann (are) gracious, dedicated, focused and hardworking,” says Dennis Curry, program manager of Employment Plus. “Both have been a complete joy to have in our program.”
When the pandemic forced businesses to close, employees such as Jeffrey and Joann were put out of work—though Hilton will welcome them back—and cut off from access to programming and social interaction. Many plunged into isolation.
“The quarantine was shocking and confusing even to the average person,” Hilton says. “Can you imagine how much worse it was, for example, for someone with autism who relied on a steady routine and the community there to feel happy and connected?”
Capitol Books & Gifts temporarily moved online last October, but Hilton is eager for the day she can welcome the public in person to the gift shop’s new location in the lower level of the Capitol. So are Jeffrey and Joann.
“I miss the people there,” says Joann, who’s spent time with her daughter and two grandchildren while waiting for the store to reopen.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my (fellow) employees again after over a year,” says Jeffrey, a Special Olympics athlete who spent the pandemic helping his mother landscape their yard and update their house. “I get along well with them and I love learning new skills.”
Hilton looks forward to having her team back together and generating revenue for vital programs that enable workers such as Jeffrey and Joann “to have skills and opportunities to live independent lives, contribute to the community in which they live and advocate for themselves.”
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.