Disabilities no match for Buchmiller
Marvin Buchmiller’s driving skills may charitably be termed as aggressive. Snow, slush, heavy traffic on Lake Tahoe Boulevard – nothing seems to be an impediment as he dashes around town in a frenzy of motion and determination.
Buchmiller, you see, makes his living overcoming obstacles and knocking down barriers. In his line of work one has to be tough. Nosing around in a tentative manner just isn’t going to get it done.
“I’ve always said that I have the best job in Tahoe,” said Buchmiller, a job coaching supervisor for the Supported Employment Division of Substitute Personnel and Business Services in South Lake Tahoe. “I mean, I get up every morning and I’m excited about going to work. I say to myself, ‘What can we accomplish today?’ “
Plenty, as it turns out. Buchmiller and the Supported Employment Division are this year celebrating a decade of providing quality work opportunities for developmentally delayed adults. Working in concert with Vocational Rehabilitation (a California state agency funded through federal programs) and Alta Regional (which refers the clients), plus local businesses such as Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and Safeway Stores, Buchmiller’s agency has placed more than 100 developmentally delayed adults in full- or part-time jobs.
“We work with people who have been determined to have an IQ of 70 or less,” Buchmiller said. “But the philosophy I use is that we’re all handicapped in one way or another. These people have just developed a lot of handicaps.
“My job is to determine where their disabilities are, and to take away their handicaps.”
Indeed, Buchmiller’s job is as hands-on as it gets. As job coaching supervisor, he rolls up his sleeves and gets involved in the actual training the individual client – whether that be as a dishwasher, busboy, laundry person, stock person or clerk in a clothing store.
“I’ve worked at more jobs than anyone I know,” he said, smiling.
Buchmiller lives and works in a 24-hour community, which means he holds a 24-hour job. He my get a call at 2 a.m. to go and help a client on the job.
“I’m always there for them, and they know that,” he said. “I work 24-7, and I’m fine with that. People are more important than time.”
In the Supported Employment Division Assessment Program, which is new this year, clients go through extensive interviews to determine which sort of job would suit them best. Then Buchmiller accompanies them to four or five prospective job sites, where the client works a four-hour shift with a supervisor.
From there the employer, SED and the client agree on a match.
“Most of my clients are on SSI, a form of disability welfare,” Buchmiller said. “They don’t have to go to work, they want to. This is their perception of a normal life.
“I just open the door for them,” he said. “It’s they who are successful.”
Like many of his clients, Buchmiller knows what it’s like being on the outside looking in. He spent many years in school with his own form of learning disability, not discovering until he was an adult that he had dyslexia.
“I know what it’s like to be frustrated with learning,” he said. “I spent many years feeling that I would never be a success at anything.”
Buchmiller tried his hand at sales and public relations, and nothing seemed to click. But he had always loved working with the developmentally delayed, ever since an experience he had coaching at the Special Olympics in 1965.
He moved to South Lake Tahoe in 1985, lost a business he had owned, and started looking for something else to do.
“I looked at it as an opportunity to do everything I had ever dreamed,” he said.
He got involved in TACCD (Tahoe Area Coordinated Council for the Disabled) and community agencies such as the Sierra Sunshine Club which were working to help find jobs for the developmentally disabled. From there he began negotiating contracts with several different agencies to supply employment, and the effort began to grow.
The Supported Employment Division of Substitute Personnel and Business Services began in 1988, and Buchmiller has been charging ahead ever since.
“The main challenge is hooking (the client) up with the right job,” said Joan Stinem the personnel manager at Harvey’s Resort and Casino, which has six disabled people on their payroll. “Marvin is good at that. There have been many successes, some failures.
“We believe, as he does, that everyone needs a chance. But we’ve benefited too. We’ve gained some very qualified people who are dedicated to their jobs.”
Rick Hunger, the restaurant manager at Harrah’s, agrees.
“It’s worked out well for Harrah’s,” he said. “Most of the work here is entry level, and usually by the time you train a person, they move on. But with this program we’ve gained long-term employees, and they’re happy to be here.”
Harrah’s has been a part of the Supported Employment Division program since its inception. More than 40 employees with varying degrees of disability have worked at Harrah’s over the past decade. Ellsworth Cates is one of Buchmiller’s clients, who has been working in the food service department of Harrah’s for eight years.
“He’s a very good worker,” Hunger said of Cates. “But you can’t push him. I’ve learned a lot of patience.”
The key, says Buchmiller, is not to treat these people like children.
“When you bring the client to your level, then you can communicate,” he said. “They teach me a lot; much more than I teach them. They tend to be truthful, honest and up-front.
“Society doesn’t dictate to them how to act, and I respect that.”
It’s not all “movie-of-the-week” stories out there, however, Buchmiller said.
“There are some real sad stories,” he said. “Sometimes this is not a feeling business. But then there are some people who have been on the same job for 10 years, and when you see that, then you feel good.”
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