Success at Silver Birch ERA Prompts Request for More Help | Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana
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Silver Birch employee Ernie Perez, left, and Employment Readiness Academy participant Solomon add whipped cream to desserts in the kitchen at Silver Birch.
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Amanda, a participant in the Employment Readiness Academy at Silver Birch of Fort Wayne, readies dinner rolls for residents at Silver Birch.
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Angie Crowell, left, the head cook at Silver Birch, and Easterseals staff member Darcell Hermann talk with Solomon as he packs desserts into foam cups at Silver Birch.
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Amanda wipes down a table in the dining room.
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Amanda prepares dishes for the dishwasher at Silver Birch.

Since last year, Employment Readiness Academy, or ERA, teams from Easterseals Arc have worked at Silver Birch of Fort Wayne, a senior living and assisted living community on Hanna Street. In eight-week sessions, participants in the program have helped with kitchen, dining room and housekeeping tasks.

They’ve performed so well that staff with Silver Birch have asked Easterseals Arc to add another ERA at a second facility, Silver Birch at Cook Road.

Chef Lawrence Davis, who runs the kitchens at both Silver Birch facilities, said he was so impressed with the help the ERA participants provide that he asked for the second ERA at Cook Road.

“Honestly, it’s fantastic. Some days, we might be shorthanded, and they fill the gap,” he said of the ERA workers. “They learn quick, and they’re ready to do what needs to be done.”

Suzanne Vertigan of Easterseals Arc confirmed that the agency plans to start a program to provide work experience at Silver Birch at Cook Road. It might be another Employment Readiness Academy for adults or perhaps a Pre-Employment Transition Services program for high school students.

Three ERA participants typically work at Silver Birch each day during the program. Some days they work in the kitchen and dining room; others, they help with housekeeping tasks.

Darcell Hermann, the Easterseals Arc staff member who supervises the Silver Birch ERA, said when ERA team members work with food service, they clear dishes and silverware from tables after breakfast and lunch, wipe down tables and chairs, and set tables. In the kitchen, they wash dishes, serve meals to residents, plate desserts and help with other food prep.

On days when they help with housekeeping, crew members go into residents’ rooms, take out trash, collect laundry and vacuum, she said.

Amanda and Solomon, two ERA team members who worked at Silver Birch in the summer of 2022, both said they enjoyed their work in the kitchen and dining room more than the housekeeping.

Amanda said she likes “bussing the dishes. Wiping down the tables. I like serving meals.”

“I’m learning a lot of skills from housekeeping and the kitchen,” Solomon said.

He likes the kitchen because of the variety. “There’s always something different. They’re trying new things,” he said.