Gov. Haslam applauds local employment opportunities for people with disabilities


Governor Haslam created the Employment First task force, four years ago. On Tuesday, he was in the Tri-Cities touring a local business doing just that.

The governor's initiative supports school-to-work programs like the one at Dobyns Bennett. There are 24 DB students in the transitional program, which is now in its second year. And there are already a lot of success stories.

Governor Haslam walked up and down the aisles of Food City, meeting the students most affected by his statewide initiative, Employment First.

"There are some real life people who have taken advantage of it and have a different life," the governor said. "So you see the excitement of a Caleb, working in produce, or Parker at checkout."

All of the students at Tuesday's event are part of Dobyns Bennett's Transition School To Work program.

"I make coleslaw and I cook all types of different foods," Caleb Peters said.

"I get carts and I bag groceries," Ben Black said.

The program gives them hands-on training. Some, even leading to a job offer.

"I like to get money, I like to get paychecks, you know," Peters said.

But program coordinator Ben Robertson said it's not just about the money.

"You're giving them confidence," he said. "You know, before this program was started, they really didn't know what they were capable of."

And he said this also opens doors for employers.

"A lot of them sadly may have just went home and never worked," Robertson said. "And now we're giving them the opportunity to make a positive impact on our community."

As Governor Haslam moves into his last year in office, he said he's happy to see one of his first priorities, employment for everyone, making a difference.

"Every now and then the government can be frustrating, then you see something like this," Haslam said. "It really is working and changing lives."

And the students seem pretty proud of their success too.

"As long as I'm famous and as long as this transition school to work is still going on across the state of Tennessee, I'm glad to be a part of it," Peters said.

Food City isn't the only local business offering these special opportunities. There are several restaurants and car dealerships in Kingsport, training students with disabilities. And Dobyns Bennett is always looking for new businesses to expand the program.

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