Jamilah “Mimi” Carter is a vivacious 21-year-old who asserts her independence any chance she can. Mimi is in her last year at the Crater Transition Program, and has her first paid job in place before graduation.
Mimi works 15 hours per week at the Grange Co-Op near her home in Central Point, Ore. She is the grounds keeper at the grain, fertilizer and packaging plant. Mimi is responsible for vacuuming, sweeping, and taking care of the facility to make sure it is safe and clean.
“It’s awesome here,” Mimi said. “I like it because I feel confident and more independent.”
When Mimi first started working at the Grange in Sept. 2015, her managers noticed a quiet, withdrawn young woman. A year later, they said Mimi is much more engaged, confident, and takes initiative at the workplace.
Will Williams, agricultural business manager at the Grange, said the job Mimi does is dusty hard work, but crucial to business operations. Grange Co-op’s feed mill is the only certified organic mill in southern Oregon. It provides local farmers and ranchers with sacked or bulk feeds produced locally.
“Before, workers in the plant would just sweep and vacuum their own work areas when they got a chance, so it left some hazards throughout the plant,” he said. “Now it’s a safer work environment for everyone.”
One example of how Mimi made the Grange safer: she noticed a large spark coming out the vacuum cleaner one day and immediately reported it to her supervisor. Will said the vacuum’s motor was bad and that Mimi may have prevented a fire.
Cindy Stanley, the office manager at the Grange, said in addition to her hard work, Mimi gets along with all her coworkers.
“She has been a great blessing to the Grange,” she said. “She is always coming to work smiling, makes it a very positive atmosphere.”
Amber Oppegaard is Mimi’s job coach through Pathway Enterprises. Amber said Mimi hesitated when she first started the job. Now she sometimes starts working on her own initiative.
“At the beginning, she had some struggles with the equipment and finding a work pattern that worked for her,” she said. “Now she really is getting her routine down. She has really blossomed”
Mimi experiences an intellectual disability. She also has difficulty sitting still for too long. The active, physical nature of the work at the Grange fits her well.
“My favorite part of this job is getting my work done and doing it correctly,” Mimi said.
Mimi is saving her paychecks for items she is going to need when she moves into her own apartment in the fall. She is moving into a new apartment complex in downtown Medford. Mimi currently lives with her family in Central Point.
“My family is pretty excited for me,” Mimi said. “They are happy for me to live and work in the community.”
Mimi’s mother Cara Carter was told to not expect much for her daughter. Mimi almost died as an infant and as a toddler experienced significant delays. Repeatedly, Mimi defied and exceeded expectations.
“I was told she wouldn’t read, and now she reads at grade level,” Cara said. “She taught us not to underestimate her. I started to be able to see the potential she had.”
In her high school transition program, Mimi had a number of work experiences that helped to inform what types of jobs would fit.
“The Grange is physical and task-oriented so it’s a good fit for Mimi,” Cara said. “She likes her coworkers. She can see the result of what she has done. She comes home and tells us, ‘I rocked it today.’”
After getting her diploma from Crater High School, Mimi enrolled in the Crater Transition Program to learn work and independent living skills. She also participated in employment and living skills classes at Pathway's Community Education Center to help prepare for life and work outside of school and her family home.
Cara has been helping Mimi purchase items for her new apartment. After she finishes her transition program, Mimi’s ultimate goal is to work full-time.
“I had no idea so many kitchen appliances come in pink,” Cara said, laughing. “I’m scared really, the thought of her living alone. But she doesn’t want to live with her parents. She told us she wants to live independently; get her own apartment; have a job. In her head, that’s what adults do and so that’s what she wants to do.”
Mimi will have supports in her new apartment through Pathway Enterprises, but Cara Carter said she knows many parents who have a child with an intellectual or developmental disability struggle with letting go.
“There will be problems, but that’s not a reason to try,” Cara said.
Mimi’s job developer was Becky Simpson from Pathway Enterprises. Her VR counselor was Brad Haller and her personal agent is Rinda Freeman from Creative Supports. Cindy Cameron supported her for many years as a service coordinator. Her job coach is Amber Oppegaard from Pathway Enterprises and her teachers at the transition program are Celine Buzcek and Debbie Engberg.
You can view a video of Cara Carter discussing her daughter working in the community.
You can also view a photo slideshow of Mimi at work.