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The economy's unseen casualties
April 20, 2009, 12:00 AM By Michael Almonte

Michael Almonte/Daily Journal Michael Medina spends time cleaning up around his South San Francisco home after the bookstore where he worked for seven years shut down. Medina is being helped by The Arc, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities find work.

It’s a typical scene in downtown San Francisco.

The sun is shining and people are getting off BART and Muni at the Montgomery Street Station heading to another day of work.

One person blends in like any other, suit and tie, black mustache and briefcase. Michael Medina is heading to his usual 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. shift as a janitor of Stacey’s Bookstore.

It was a typical day for Medina, who spent seven years working at the store. But that scene is no more.

The South San Francisco resident is one of many people now looking for work when hard economic times forced the store’s closure after 85 years. Medina, 52, has developmental disabilities and first arrived at the bookstore as part of The Arc, a nonprofit resource for adults with developmental disabilities (which include autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy) in San Francisco and San Mateo County.

Founded in 1951, The Arc has nearly 200 clients like Medina working at 100 Bay Area companies. The vision of the Arc is a community where disability is a distinction without a difference. Its purpose is to serve people with developmental disabilities by promoting self-determination, dignity and quality of life. During the last six months, the number of its clients who lost their jobs nearly doubled compared to the same period a year ago. It is also estimated that people with disabilities earn just 80 cents for every dollar earned by people without disabilities.

Medina once spent his day putting on his bright apron over his suit and tie. Medina believes it’s always better when you wear a suit and tie to work.

He once checked his detailed schedule of duties like cleaning all three floors of the bookstore, taking the trash out and scrubbing the floors to ensure the bookstore remained spotless.

"My mom always taught me to work hard and be independent,” he said.

But Medina is now looking forward to his next endeavor that includes attending "Job Club” at The Arc, which is run by San Francisco City College. It takes place at The Arc with about a dozen students.

The class helps the students think about which jobs fit with their individual’s skills and helps them understand the jobs they see every day out in the world and learn practical skills like how to use job sites and Craigslist to find potential jobs. "It’s a big class with nice people,” says Medina. The class also stresses the importance of staying busy and the value of doing volunteer work between jobs, as a way to maintain skills and stay healthy.

The Arc is also helping establish relationships with companies and educate them about the value of hiring people with developmental disabilities (like their loyalty to their employers, longevity in their jobs and great attitude about working). In addition, The Arc has helped Medina develop a resume and will assist him with identifying jobs, applying and interviewing.

The main challenge Medina, and others, are facing is the economic situation. Employers are cutting jobs and hours and unfortunately, people with developmental disabilities are often among the first to see these cuts because many employers don’t understand the broad range of jobs that people with developmental disabilities can succeed in like bagging groceries or taking tickets at a movie theater.

Initially angry when he heard of the bookstore’s closure because he loved the atmosphere, the customers and people who come into the store, Medina is staying positive and looking forward to the next phase in his life.

"We been glad to have him the last seven years,” said store manager Tom Allen. "Michael has does everything we have asked of him and never complains.”  

When Medina is not attending class for The Arc, he is spending time with his mom and two brothers Arthur and Mario who share a close-knit relationship. Medina keeps busy by cleaning up around the house and making sure the place remains intact before finding his next job.

"I’m very proud of my son and happy he is a loving and caring guy,” said Medina’s mother Gerda.

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