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Rest Areas Help Workers Earn Something Invaluable: A Paycheck

The Missouri Association of Workshop Managers recently recognized a nearly 25-year-old story that began with some down-to-earth issues.

In recognition of her efforts to secure a new contract area for workshops, Manager Martha Viar-Stevens of Pemiscot Progressive Industries in Hayti was presented with a plaque and other items by MASWM. Ginger Williams, Manager of Missouri Community Improvement Industries in Farmington, made the presentation June 12 because Martha was unable to attend the MASWM spring meeting.

“I felt it important that Martha be recognized for bringing the idea of maintenance contracts to the Governor’s attention,” Ginger reported. “Due to her tenacity and foresight, rest-area contracts have not only brought millions of dollars in revenue to Extended Employment Sheltered Workshops around the state, but have also given our employees a reputation for producing high quality work. It was an honor for me to deliver this award to Martha!”

For several years, Martha was in fact a one-woman lobbying effort to make this major change a reality. Today, she emphasizes the help from former Sheltered Workshop Division Director Otis Thompson and others. Her own words tell much of the story.

Martha’s motivation at first was the location of a visitors center near the Missouri-Arkansas border. “I was also very verbal about the deplorable condition of the grounds and restroom facilities,” she recalled. “I stated that our workshop could do a fine job of correcting that problem.
“Very shortly after that, Steve, my husband, and I attended a function with MoDot (Missouri Department of Transportation) people present and among them was the Chief Engineer,” Martha continued. “I feel sure that I had something to say to anyone who would listen to me at the various functions we attended. All I did was talked to anyone I felt was in a position to do good for us.

Finally, in the mid-1980s, Martha received a call from Thompson who asked, “how would you feel about doing the janitorial work at Marston rest area?” The arrangement was a 90-day test—but as history proved it was an outstanding arrangement not just for Pemiscot County but workshops throughout Missouri.

“MoDot called me later and asked if I would continue the work until they could get a proper contract drawn up and would I write our standard operating procedure for the caretaking which our workshop employed,” Martha recalled. “Later, I was asked to do the janitorial work at the Steele rest area also.”

Martha noted that MoDot was an outstanding “boss.” “I have never had a better business relationship than with MoDot,” she said. “The contract with them certainly allowed us to do so much for our people as well as for the people hired to support their effort.”

As often happens, the work generated a number of auxiliary jobs. “The barrels ‘for cans only,’ for which our local welder made the prototype, was approved by MoDot and installed at each rest area. These cans have been a great moneymaker for our workers’ Christmas fund. I hope it has proven as helpful to other workshops.”

Perhaps most moving of all is Martha’s explanation of why such efforts are important to workshop employees who have disabilities. One day she was introducing a new employee and decided to let another employee show him the workshop. Both were affected with Down syndrome.

The young man being shown the workshop finally asked, “how much money do you make?” The answer was very brief: “A paycheck.”

“I often think of that day and know that giving those two young men, and other men and women in their peer group, the dignity of receiving a paycheck is what we do. That is important.”

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