Ellisha is doing well in her work at Covington Box, but the 27-year-old’s success didn’t come without effort. She’s supported by help from staff members at Easterseals Arc who have helped her overcome obstacles.
The work requires cooperating closely with other participants in an Easterseals Arc network Employment Readiness Academy. She works five-hour shifts on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. On those days, she and her peers travel in an Easterseals Arc van from Fort Wayne to the plant in Waterloo.
On a day in January 2022, for example, Ellisha worked as part of a three-member team building boxes. One person folded and taped cartons. A second opened a grid of cardboard partitions and fit it inside each box. A third person attached a sorting label to the box. As they worked, they stacked the completed boxes on a wooden pallet.
All three workers rotated through the jobs necessary to prepare the boxes for shipping to Trin, a company in Ashley. Trin manufactures switches used in vehicles, such as switches for power seats, door locks and blinking hazard lights. Those small parts are destined for the partitions inside the shipping boxes Ellisha and her teammates are assembling.
Building the boxes is the bulk of their work, but as Ellisha grows more proficient, she tackles new tasks, too. On this day, she was trying her hand at running a hand forklift known as a pallet jack. It lifts a pallet a short distance, just an inch or two, off the floor. Then the pallet can be maneuvered around the factory floor. Ellisha had the basics of the pallet jack mastered, and when she worked to snug it into close quarters, Covington Box employee Cathy Short jumped across stacks of flattened boxes to help coach her “parking.”
Ellisha smiled broadly when the pallet was parked.
“Am I doing good?” she asked Short.
“You’re doing great so far,” Short told her.
There are times when Short can make Ellisha giggle by literally dancing over to her to offer advice. But through most of her shift, Ellisha focuses intently on her work. She rarely allows herself to be distracted. That close focus on work is part of what helps her succeed.
She likes earning and saving money; people working in the ERA at Covington Box receive a stipend. She also likes learning more about working – at Covington Box, in particular, and succeeding in a workplace in general.
“I’m looking for job opportunities,” she said.
There have been problems to overcome, and the biggest obstacle she’s faced has been social. Sometimes, when Ellisha feels as though someone is picking on her, she finds it hard to work through her hurt feelings. At one point, she was so upset by a peer that she thought she couldn’t continue working at Covington Box. She was so unnerved that she insisted Suzanne Vertigan, the workforce development supervisor at Easterseals Arc, bring her back to Fort Wayne.
Vertigan agreed to bring her back, but she warned Ellisha that she wouldn’t do that for her again. Vertigan arranged a meeting with Toni Printzos, the behavioral consultant who works with Ellisha. Since then, Printzos and Ellisha have concentrated on learning more about how to navigate work relationships.
They’re also reading “Girl World: How to Ditch the Drama and Find Your Inner Amazing,” a book by Patricia Ottaviano that is designed to help young women develop strong friendships and overcome conflicts. Printzos has helped her practice an array of coping techniques to manage her reactions to troublesome social interactions.
Ellisha said that listening to music with earbuds is one of the best ways to cope. That’s a great fit at Covington Box, because she’s allowed to listen to music there. But the broader lesson is “not to let other people get to me when they’re rude,” she said.
Ellisha has had some volunteer and Employment Readiness Academy experience before – at Lutheran Hospital and Community Harvest Food Bank, for example. None have worked out as well for her as Covington Box.
In all, she’s adapted so well to the teamwork necessary at the Waterloo plant that she’s excited about her next immersion in a new workplace through an Easterseals Arc Employment Readiness Academy.
“I’m going to be starting at Holiday Inn in March!,” she said.