The Grounds are Covered

Zachary Mathews photo

St. Petersburg, FL – Zachary Mathews loves working outside and watching the plants he nurtures bloom and grow. He also dreams of working full time for the Tampa Bay Rays Grounds Crew, and he’s living part of that dream right now as he rakes second base for the Rays evening and weekend games. For now, he’s content to spend his days working as a landscaper for the Postcard Inn on St. Petersburg Beach.

Zachary speaks slowly and carefully because epilepsy affected his speech at a young age, but it didn’t affect his drive to succeed or his work ethic. “I actually have to slow him down sometimes,” says Patrick Brophy, General Manager of the Postcard Inn and Zachary’s supervisor. “Working outside here in Florida in this heat, I have to make sure he takes breaks throughout the day. From the time he steps in the door until he leaves, Zach is all about taking care of the guests, taking care of the property.”

Zachary came to the Postcard Inn after a three-month On-the-Job Training (OJT) through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) with Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg. There, he learned the basics of grounds maintenance. Zachary explains, “I picked up branches, swept, raked leaves, pushed mulch back in the beds, and used the backpack blower.”

Zachary learned about OJT from his VR Counselor, Argie Georgiades, and Job Coach Christy Brown, with Placement Works. They had discussed different options with Zachary, and together, they decided that On-the-Job Training would give him a chance to learn the skills he needed to eventually reach his career goal. “Zach is very friendly and a real go-getter,” says Argie. “He always does what he is asked, and wherever you put him, he fits right in.”

On-the-Job Training is a VR program that gives customers the opportunity to work in an actual job site and gain real-world experience. VR pays the employee’s salary during OJT, along with reasonable training costs and any accommodations needed. It’s a win-win situation for both employers and employees.

Bill O’Grady, Sunken Gardens Supervisor, says that the On-the-Job Training program was very simple to do. “We were told what to expect,” he says. “Christy introduced us to the trainees, and they [the OJT participants] started. They were very eager to do the work, so they gave it their all.” Unfortunately, the City of St. Petersburg was on a hiring freeze this spring, so Bill couldn’t offer Zachary a permanent position after he completed his OJT. Their loss was Postcard Inn’s gain.

Patrick says that the Sunken Gardens staff did a good job of training Zachary, teaching him how to use the equipment and how to deal with customers and guests. “I think the training absolutely helped,” says Patrick. “When he came here, we helped him learn a routine and from that routine, he now goes out and executes it every single day.”

Zachary has made a real difference at the Postcard Inn. “He’s a good guy, he makes you smile,” says Patrick. “He wants to do a good job and takes a lot of pride in that. He comes in and takes this job so seriously.” Argie agrees. “Zach hasn’t let his disability get in his way. He loves being included and loves to work.”

Make no mistake – Zachary enjoys the Postcard Inn, but hopes to someday show just how seriously he takes his job while working full-time with the Tampa Bay Rays Grounds Crew. Argie, Christy and Patrick know he would be a perfect match.

If your business would like to participate in the On-the-Job Training program, contact your local VR office at (800) 451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org for a list of offices near you.

Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. Our employer-focused website, FLJobConnections.com, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 111 offices across Florida, and last year helped 5,018 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job.