SHREVEPORT, La. – Theresa Gray-Jacobs is the Superintendent of Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation’s Therapeutic Recreation program at the Princess Park Community Center downtown. SPAR Therapeutic provides recreation and leisure services for anyone with a disability, but Jacobs had a vision that it could do more.
“I figured out this... I know our clients have to be super smart,” she said. “So, it started off with one of our clients going to college. From her going to college, I know from college you ask, ‘What am I going to do with this college degree?’ I was like, ‘She can work.’ I know some of our clients can work.”
So Jacobs developed a job-training program for clients at Princess Park. The program has seen about 20 clients trained and hired at local businesses, including Brookshire’s Food Stores, McDonald’s, Jason’s Deli and Popeye’s.
The staff at Princess Park does all of the job training. Jacobs said that some of the employers provide specific skills they want taught. Prospective employees remain in the training program until they have mastered the skills for the job. After a client has been hired, job coaches are available to assist them on the job and identify further training needs.
“Darrell Thrash is a Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, and he’s given them the knowledge that they need,” Jacobs said. “They give us the tasks from the different work sites. We just help them and teach them whatever they need to know to perform the tasks.”
Sandra Banks’ son has been in the program and working for more than a year. Banks said she has become an ambassador for the job-training program.
"Somebody was asking me at work about their child who is autistic,” Banks said. “I told them about the program. I told them everything about what it involves, and how their child can progress. I have led a lot of people there because they say their child has a disability, but they are sitting at home, not being productive.”
Jacobs said that watching the transformation from dependence to independence has made this the most rewarding job she has had in her career.
“Once someone arrives, they become a totally different person,” she said. “They are so independent. They are going to continue to strive. The ability to grab a dollar out of their pocket without turning to momma, say I pay my light bill, say I can pay my water bill, say I can pay my rent. I’m a part of society.”
David Chatman trained through the program at Princess Park before being hired at McDonald’s. David said he enjoys the responsibilities of his job as well as the opportunity to socialize with his co-workers and meet new people in the restaurant. He also has learned the value of his paycheck. “I would rather have money saved than to have a lot of clothes,” he said.
Chatman added that he would encourage his peers to find a job “because it is a good feeling to be part of something.”
Christopher Smith works at Brookshire’s through the job-training program. He said he enjoys bagging the groceries and speaking with the customers. Smith also offered advice to his peers considering employment. “It’s nice having your own money and depositing it into your bank account,” he said. “Having a job will help you do that.”
Jacobs said she maintains a consistent staff-to-client ratio in the training program. If a spot is not available, prospective clients are put on the waiting list. Those clients have opportunities to get involved and be active at the center. “We won’t just leave them,” she said. “We are going to keep them in other different activities.”
Day programs are available at the center Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Jacobs said the center receives great support for all of its activities from the parents of clients and community volunteers, including college students who serve as interns.
For more information on the job-training program, including how your business can get involved, contact Jacobs at Princess Park Community Center at (318) 673-7815.