The coffee kiosk at Phoenix’s City Hall is bustling, and Joanna, one of the sales associates, is busy. She currently works part-time, four days a week, making sandwiches, parfaits and popcorn; portioning foods; cleaning up; stocking merchandise; and much more.
There had been a lot to absorb at first—learning all the buttons and abbreviations of Starbucks drinks on the cash register, to use the iPad Square system, and how to brew tea and coffee.
“I miss her when she’s not here because she’s really become such a huge asset and a huge help to everyone on the team,” shares Guadalupe Steele, owner of Az Working Girl Cafe (200 W. Washington St., Phoenix), about her employee. In fact, in the year to come, she’s looking forward to having Joanna take on even more responsibility, possibly learning to make the complicated drinks and learning the repeat customers and their orders.
Warm, friendly and passionate about her business, Steele goes on to explain that when she took over Az Working Girl Cafe, a coffee kiosk located at City Hall in Downtown Phoenix, in February 2017, she knew she wanted to add specific types of employees to her current team.
Steele is legally blind, and was given the opportunity to own Az Working Girl Cafe through the Business Enterprise Program, a state program designed to provide employment opportunities for legally blind individuals to run Valley businesses.
In addition to always wanting to own a coffee kiosk, Steele also knew she wanted to reach out to other types of programs and employ others. In her research, she learned about Southwest Autism Research & Resource (SARRC) and its Employment Partners program.
Through the program, SARRC helps build job skills in those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) via vocational assessments, social and adaptive skills training, and trial work opportunities and internships. SARRC also partners with local and national employers to increase employment opportunities for those with ASD.
A conversation with SARRC revealed that they had a candidate they believed would be a fit for the type of position Steele was looking to fill.
“And that was Joanna,” Steele says.
Joanna came in for an interview, along with her job coach, Joy. Each client in the program is assigned a coach, who often will attend interviews, as well as be on hand as a client begins a position—and for as long as needed thereafter.
“I love the program in that the job coach follows Joanna on the job and after, so anytime I feel Joanna needs more training—or anything—I can reach out to her," says Guadalupe. "Or, if Joanna has any questions or needs anything, she can reach out to her, too.”
For Joanna, the initial on-the-job training meant just the first day-and-a-half—and then she was ready to be on her own, with check-ins from both Steele and Joanna as needed.
“[Employment Services] has been a tremendous help. I love working here,” Joanna shares. “Everyone’s been very nice. I interact with the customers and make sure everyone’s happy and getting what they want.”
In addition to working at Az Working Girl Cafe, Joanna is a student in the First Place Transition Academy operated by SARRC, attends Gateway Community College and works for Omni Bioceutical Innovations—also a SARRC Employment Partner—bioceuticals company as a production assistant, labeling bottles for patients.
“Joy helped me a lot by teaching me how to do interviews, how to dress appropriately, and going with me to job fairs,” Joanna says of program and its results.
Joanna is enjoying her jobs, both the learning new skills and securing her future.
“I’m very glad that I have two jobs that I’m working at and making money, which I definitely need,” she says. “I’m starting to save for my new place after I graduate from First Place Transition Academy operated by SARRC in May.”
As for Steele, she’s glad she found Joanna, as well. “I’m very fortunate to work alongside her and to say this is how we do things. She’s such a fast learner and she’s gone above and beyond. I’m just so tickled pink.”