Matthew Lucas may not say much aloud, but he speaks volumes with his drawings.
Matthew experiences autism and has communication barriers. However, his love of art and drawing led to a job at Photo Creations in the Rogue Valley Mall in Medford.
“I make sure the photos are nice and perfect,” Matthew said. “I make sure every picture is scanned. I like learning new things.”
Before Matthew was hired at Photo Creations, he used to go to the store to socialize and work on his art. Job developer Gwyn Lema worked with Vocational Rehabilitation counselor Teddy Walston to carve a position at Photo Creations that would fit Matthew’s skills and serve owner Masao Williams’ business needs.
“We needed to customize a job that would be sustainable, that Matthew would like, and would still help the business,” Gwyn said.
Teddy added: “We worked as a team to have pre-planning meetings, to really make sure we were having a person-centered perspective and finding an appropriate niche for Matthew. We wanted to turn this great volunteer experience into a successful job match for Matthew.”
Photo Creations Studios & Art Gallery is a full-service video and photo studio, specializing in photography, photo restoration as well as the exhibition and sales of artwork. Matthew does a bit of everything: from scanning inventory and straightening photos to keeping the store clean. He also brings a special talent to Photo Creations: his talent for drawing. Matthew draws pictures for children while their parents are busy making purchases. He draws just about anything – from animals and super heroes to Disney princesses.
In addition to working at Photo Creations, Matthew also works at Masao’s other business in the mall, Indulge Art Gallery. His job duties include making sure photos from the company website are uploaded properly and processing online sales.
“I saw something special in Matt right away,” Masao, the owner of Photo Creations, said. “We treated him like family since day one.”
Gwyn said the relationship between Matthew and Masao is special: she said the business owner has embraced Matthew’s talents and also taken on helping him with some of his challenges.
“Masao has unlocked so much genius in Matthew,” she said. “He has learned Matthew’s way of doing things and works with that.”
For example, since Matthew has difficulty reading the labels with the artist’s names on the store’s inventory, Masao created a color-coded system where a colored dot is placed on all the items in the store for a certain artist’s work. Matt just needs to remember then that “red,” for instance, matches a particular artist and mark it appropriately in the inventory.
Masao said he has experienced his own challenges in life, including a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder. He said Matthew’s calm, systematic approach helps to balance his own high-level energy at times.
“I’m all over the place so it is fun to sit with him because he is so focused and methodical,” Masao said. “Every day, he is excited, motivated. He never gives an excuse. He’s the most dedicated person I’ve ever met.”
Matthew has now worked at Photo Creations since Dec. 2014. He currently works about 12 hours per week but is at the store more frequently working on his art. He said he uses some of his paycheck to pay for more art supplies, including colored pencils and drawing paper. He likes his boss, and enjoys when they go to lunch together.
“He’s a good guy,” Matthew said.
Masao said as a small business owner, he is looking at hiring an individual with an intellectual and developmental disability not only as a good business decision, but as a chance to invest in a person’s future. He employs several people with I/DD at Photo Creations.
“I look past the disability of any employee and look at, ‘How can I serve them and see them excel?’” Masao said. “If they can take what I’ve trained them and use that to excel in the future, that’s rewarding.”
Gwyn and Teddy said that good job customization comes from a combination of knowing the individual and working closely as a team. Their rapport together, and with business owner Masao, is evident as they joke around.
“We’re looking at positions with potential; a job that will grow with a person,” Teddy said. “Matthew started at just a few hours per week and has slowly increased both his hours and his duties as his confidence grew.”
Gwyn added: “Employment First is all about: how businesses can prosper with a person who is thrilled to do that job and unlocks their potential.”
Teddy Walston was the VR counselor for Matthew. Gwyn Lema from Creating Community Impact was the job developer and did initial job coaching. Creating Community Impact continues providing ongoing job coaching. Matthew’s personal agent is Nicole Russo with Creative Supports. Nelson Ferguson was the benefits counselor from the Work Incentives Network.
You can view a video of Matthew and his team.
You can also view a photo slideshow of Matthew at work.