More than Filling Job Openings in Ramsey County
01 December 2021
Labor shortages swept across the country in 2021, as businesses could not find enough workers despite high unemployment rates. While Ramsey County unemployment has historically been lower than national averages, local businesses and employment agencies still strive to match employment opportunities with those seeking jobs. One Ramsey County organization, Merrick, Inc., does just that and more.
Merrick is Ramsey County’s largest provider offering a full array of day services to adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. What started nearly 60 years ago as a means to help a handful of persons has grown to a mission to empower the overall lives of nearly 400 adult clients each year with meaningful employment, life enrichment opportunities, and self-advocacy.
Today, nearly 100 local businesses partner with Merrick through its Production Division. The benefits businesses receive go well beyond simply filling key roles in their operations. Business leaders are also interested in making the local community a better place for all by providing meaningful work to people with disabilities and then quickly realize their corporate culture is enhanced when their employees interact with their clients, said Karen Herrera, Development and Communications Director at Merrick.
“Our clients seek to be a positive part of their community,” she said. “When one of our clients asks how your day is going, they really mean it and that feeling of goodwill spreads throughout the workplace.”
Merrick has several programs to impact workforce development. One involves the ability for Merrick to provide a work crew to complete specific duties at a business partner’s site. The crew typically includes three to six individuals, along with a Direct Support Professional, fulfilling various administrative, assembly, cleaning, and maintenance services. Ramsey County businesses that have participated include Aveda, Fairview Homecare Pharmacy, Fairview Hospital, Ferlic Filters, Kowalski’s Markets, H.B. Fuller, Par Aide, University of Minnesota Plant Growth Facility and Warners’ Stellian. One unique service provided by work crews is it’s Plastic Recycling Program, which provides meaningful employment for 28 clients. Merrick contracts with businesses for regular pick-ups of material, which annually diverts nearly one million pounds of plastic from local incinerators and landfills.
Merrick also facilitates the direct hire of clients by local businesses to fill specific roles each business requires. A Merrick employment specialist provides resume development, interview practice, On-the-Job training, and intermittent support as needed to ensure the employee is meeting employer expectations.
Lastly, Merrick offers contract work at its Vadnais Heights location. Businesses can send materials and parts to Merrick, where individuals perform light assembly and packaging tasks, after which the product is either shipped directly to customers or sent back to the business partner. As a company, Merrick prides itself in providing a full array of work options. They know that “one size doesn’t fit all'' and that individuals’ needs change over time.
More than jobs
Merrick offers programming beyond developing job opportunities and provides support throughout all stages of adulthood. For those who do not have employment as a goal or those who have retired, its Life Enrichment Services promote emotional, mental, and physical health for their clients through multiple activity settings, individualized strategies, and community inclusion activities. Its downtown North St. Paul Program encourages clients to engage with the local community in commerce, volunteerism, community service, and participation in community activities like the fall parade and Friday night cruzer car shows.
Merrick also supports self-advocacy activities for its clients. More than 100 individuals meet weekly in self-advocacy groups focused on public awareness, legislative efforts, voter rights, peer mentoring, and/or community service involvement.
For Herrera, the importance of Merrick’s clients to the Ramsey County community was on display during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our clients kept working during the pandemic, because many of the businesses they work at are in the retail, medical, and service industries,” she said. “They kept working to meet the needs of the community.”
Beyond assisting individual clients and businesses, Herrera said she and her colleagues gain immense personal satisfaction through Merrick’s programs.
“It is extremely gratifying to go home at night, knowing we have helped make a difference both in our clients’ lives and in our community,” she said.