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Commissioners of Agriculture, Labor tour Savannah’s CCDS

  • From left, CCDS executive director Ken Boyd explains the wire harness assemblies to the tour group, including state Commissioners Mark Butler and Gary Black (C CDS photo by Amanda Lewis)

Savannah’s Coastal Center for Developmental Services had an opportunity Tuesday to show off its award-winning employment programs for citizens with disabilities to two of the state’s top job providers.

Mark Butler, Georgia’s Commissioner of Labor, and state Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black and other guests were treated to a lunch prepared by employees of the agency’s Coastal Center Catering division followed by a tour of the facilities and overview of services provided.

“Our mission is very simple,” CCDS executive director Ken Boyd told the group assembled for lunch. “It’s to place individuals with developmental disabilities into community-wide employment. The more we can assimilate individuals into the community, the better.”

CCDS works with 132 employers in the area and currently has approximately 225 individuals working either full-time or part-time in the community or training with CCDS in anticipation of community employment.

“One of the biggest advantages for an employer is that we provide an on-site job coach, so that when the individual goes out on a job, one of our job specialists is with them, making sure they are fully aligned with the needs and requirements of the job,” Boyd said.

For those clients who aren’t ready to go out into the job world, CCDS is there to provide pre-vocational training — including the all-important soft skills — as well as on-the-job training within one of several CCDS in-house workforces.

Right now, the areas of training include printing, culinary, special assembly, warehouse packaging and the agency’s newest endeavor, ErgoWell, which involves working with Gulfstream to re-purpose excess materials such as carpeting and aluminum.

“For many people, this is an interim step — a bridge that gives them the necessary training and confidence to move out into the integrated workforce,” Boyd said.

For Butler and Black, Tuesday’s program provided an eye-opening look at the potential and abilities of people who are “differently abled.”

“It’s clear that there is opportunity for everyone, but we have to make people aware of this,” Black said, adding he’d like to explore the application of CCDS’s approach to agricultural employers down the road.

“But certainly there are opportunities in food processing and retail …,” he said. “We just have to recognize that there is opportunity for everyone, if we are just willing to invest in them.”

Butler said he had visited many similar programs around the state and called CCDS “one of the best I’ve seen in both organization and effectiveness.

“We have to do a better job of highlighting these types of programs, because we have a lot of employers who aren’t aware of them,” he said. “These are individuals who are getting the training, and the soft skills will make them the kinds of workers that employers are looking for.

“Today’s event has helped me become more familiar with what is actually going on here so that, when we do talk to employers, we can confidently refer them to CCDS and know they will be successful.”

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