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Disabled workers care for citys landscaping
City, Howard Training Center say landscaping contract is a win-win
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Ramiro Chavez puts away a weed trimmer back onto its rack at the completion of a job along the Morgan Road sound wall. He is among the HTC clients who are taught how to safely do their job. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Clients of Howard Training Center will continue maintaining the landscape on public rights of way in Ceres for at least another three years. As far as city officials are concerned, it's a win-win arrangement.

"This is the best that the rights-of-way have looked in years," commented Jeremy Damas, the city of Ceres' Deputy Public Works Director.

The city doesn't have the manpower to make sure that medians, planter strips and areas along sound walls are kept maintained and looking its best. So since 2008 the city has contracted with the Stonum Road facility that gives developmentally disabled jobs. The three-year contract ended in October but was renewed by the Ceres City Council last month.

Damas said because the service is being provided by disadvantaged persons, Howard Training Center is able to contract for the most competitive cost than other for-profit firms.

HTC is reimbursed at a rate of 1.75 cents per square foot of landscape maintenance, 1.75 cents per square foot of sidewalk area blown off and $35 per hour. The city pays HTC about $13,500 per month for the service. The next lowest bid, however, was priced at 3 cents per square foot, or about $23,000 per month.

"Contracting with Howard Training Center provides a significant community benefit to an important provider of social services located within Ceres," said Damas. "It gives (clients) job skills and life skills, it gives them work experience. It's a good program. It benefits everybody."

Service has been quality and reliable, he added.
The clients are gathered into three crews, led by job coaches, who every day Monday through Friday mow, weed and trims, pick up garage and blow sidewalks free of debris. They also repair irrigation equipment, remove dead or dying plants, trim hedges, remove leaves and control rodents such as gophers. Coaches make sure clients adhere to stringent safety practices since much of the work occurs near traffic.

HTC crews are assigned to care for the sound wall along Hatch Road, Mitchell Road, Faith Home Road, Whitmore Avenue, Richland Avenue, Eastgate Boulevard, Morgan Road, Service Road, Central Avenue and planter areas on Fowler Road. The medians along San Pedro and Brown avenues and the ones on Aristocrat and Malik are also included in the work contract. The firm also concentrates on downtown Ceres areas of Fourth Street, Lawrence Street and Fifth Street. Clients also care for the area at both ends of the Pine Street overpass.

Another crew is charge of maintenance of landscaping at the city-owned Clinton Whitmore Mansion and the downtown business district.

The city holds monthly meetings to improve service.

Carla Strong, the new executive director of HTC, said that developmentally disabled adults go through the Valley Mountain Regional Center who determines what programs fit with their disabilities.

"We try and do something that is slightly above what they're really capable of right now because the idea is to teach them," said Strong. "It's a matter of teaching them things to do that they otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity."

Clients get paid slightly less than minimum wage but the big reward is learning "and gives them pride in what they're doing, it gives them some self-esteem, it gives them some self-respect.

"In a lot of cases our society is still not comfortable with disabled individuals and it gives them a chance to interact not only to help them but also help everybody to co-exist and realize they're not a threat."

Some have transitioned into regular jobs, such as at Walmart.

"For someone with a disability, that's a tremendous success."

HTC also contracts with Caltrans to maintain the 99 rest stops south of Turlock and rest stops in Wesley.

"We don't have any other cities but boy we'd love to do. There are way more clients than there are jobs."