You go to Heilman Dining Center at least once a day. You go there to have breakfast, lunch, dinner or even all of them. You take your tray with you once you’re done. But inevitably, you leave some trace of your meal behind. As you approach the exit, you remember the drops of guacamole all over the table and you decide to turn around and go back to your table — and there they are.

They are the auxiliary personnel at the Heilman Dining Center, the facility team that (always with a smile) makes sure that all three dining rooms are impeccable and ready to continuously host guests from sunrise to sunset. These workers are all members of a program sponsored by Supported Employment of Virginia, Inc., a non-facility and private organization that finds employment for people with disabilities. It has operated in the Richmond area since 1986 as a response to the lack of job opportunities available to people with disabilities.

“I have the highest respect for them… and here’s why: These are people that, if they wanted to, they could stay at home, collect disability and not work. But they don’t, they’re here, they want to do something that’s productive and positive for the community,” said Jerry Clemmer, director of residential dining.

These workers came to Richmond seven years ago, when Clemmer, who previously worked in hotels, spotted them while staying at a hotel in the Richmond area. They were working there as members of the facility team. He then contacted SEV and asked if some of those workers would want to come work for him at the university. The answer was positive, and since then the results of it can be seen every day on campus.

Julie Ogle, SEV site supervisor, explained that since the university is located outside the city, the workers are able to choose from a variety of transportation options that will take them to and from campus.

“Most of my teammates ride the Care Van to and from work. Some are able to ride in taxis provided from a service called Logisitcare. A few team members are dropped off and picked up by their parents or caregivers from their group home,” Ogle said.

These are not the only SEV workers supported by the university. Clemmer said the dining center also supported refugees, whom they employ. Students have probably seen them at the different food stations.

“We have not just the folks that do the tables, which is SEV, but we also have other employees of ours that have job coaches that do things in the dish room, in the patios…” he said.

Clemmer said the Richmond campus was an appealing workplace for employees with mental or physical disabilities.

“This is a beautiful venue. This is better than a grocery store because of students. You are not only accepting but you encourage them, you kind of feed their energy," Clemmer said. "I mean it’s amazing how many students say 'thank you.' That feedback, that support, keeps them coming to work everyday.”

Contact reporter Antonio De Mora Vàzquez at antonio.demora@richmond.edu

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