If you frequent the downtown area of Honesdale often, you may be familiar with The Cooperage Project on Main Street. Some may say it’s where the younger population hangs out but young or old, you can always find an event going on to suit your interests. You may also find a jovial young man greeting you with a big smile and a friendly hello. This would be Alex Jachens of Honesdale. Alex has been working at The Cooperage Project since August of 2018 as an Operations Assistant. He works along with his job coach Heather Hogan-Spencer of Community Vocational Services Inc. (And yes, you may recognize Heather’s name from the Bodhi Tree Art Studio also in downtown Honesdale).

You could say Alex is a “jack of all trades.” He cleans all the bathrooms, sweeps and mops the floors, and cleans the windows. Alex also pulls weeds, collects garbage, and will even chop ice outside on the ground in the winter so vehicles can pull in. He also helps with setting up and breaking down for events and helps with the community farmers market. Alex also attended the annual Transition Fair at Camp Ladore in the fall with the Cooperage Project’s director, Ryanne Jennings, and proved to be a representation of The Cooperage Project.

Alex certainly fits into the mission of the Cooperage Project. As Ryanne says, “Our partnership with Community Vocational Services and the Human Resource Center to have consumers do job shadowing, workforce training and/or volunteering at The Cooperage are exactly what The Cooperage Project’s mission is all about! We love seeing people of all abilities, interests and incomes come together here around things they have in common- all for the common goal of making our community stronger!”

“Alex started off doing a community-based work assessment for one day for a few hours at the Cooperage,” explains his job coach, Heather, “After only a few hours of working for one day, everyone loved him.”

Ryanne sees Alex as a true asset to the organization.

Regardless of what Alex’s job tasks are for the day, he is always doing his job with a smile. As she says, “We’ve been working with Heather Hogan-Spencer for a number of years now and we were thrilled to bring her consumers with Community Vocational Services on board at The Cooperage a few years ago. Heather brought Alex’s name up to me in the summer 2018 and he started helping with our Kids Lunch Party this summer.

Alex’s positive attitude is infectious. As soon as you meet him, you love him! He cares about helping make the Cooperage run well and look good and I really value his work ethic and his genuine nature. He’s eager to learn, willing to help with any project and is a great colleague.” 

“Ryanne loved him so much we decided to continue on with Alex under a Work Based Learning Experience,” adds Heather, “He did this after his assessment and that was his training period, which he got paid for under OVR.”

Work Based Learning Experiences are a service the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) provides for students in their final year of school. A student can work at a site for up to ninety hours and get paid by OVR until that ninety hours is fulfilled. A job coach is available as well to ensure safety, quality, and productivity. It is a wonderful learning experience for the student and the employer. It serves as a great way to train a potential co-worker as well as for that student to really show their truest potential in their skills and abilities. This was the case for Alex who was hired to work ten hours per week upon completing his Work Based Learning Experience.

Although Alex is very independent and has come a long way in his time at the Cooperage, Heather explains there are still some things he needs assistance with. “We have done a lot of different techniques with visual devices for sweeping and recognition for what has been swept and not swept,” she explains, “For example, I will use a block of wood or cardboard to be a guide for him to sweep up to with his push broom so he understands what he has and hasn’t swept.” This is one of the many creative techniques job coaches come up with to ensure adequate accommodations for our students and clients to perform a task. Heather will also have Alex repeat directions back to him for remembrance and he does very well. Regarding Alex’s work performance, Heather says, “Alex is one of the most pleasant people I’ve had the chance to work with. He is social, pleasant, polite, respectful, and an extremely hard worker. He takes a lot of pride in the work he does here and he loves to learn new things.”

Clearly Alex has been thriving in his position and loves and appreciates all the help he can get to be a success. When asked about what Alex likes best about the Cooperage, Alex says, “I like meeting people and I enjoy spending time with my job coach, Heather.” Alex also makes sure his work does not slack and everything is of top quality. “I enjoy cleaning and I like to keep the place spotless. I really enjoy vacuuming!”

So what is the best part of having Alex at the Cooperage Project? “Having Alex work at the Cooperage is a triple win,” says Ryanne, “We get to have Alex and his wonderful personality here helping to keep our building in tip top shape, we get to see Heather Hogan -Spencer, his support staff,  more often — she’s awesome— and  Alex is able to learn some new skills every time he’s here. The Cooperage is a daily learning opportunity for everyone who works here. Every day is different and the opportunities to learn and grow are endless! We’re thrilled to have Alex part of our team and are grateful for everything he brings to our organization and community.” 

This jack of all trades hasn’t let all the success go to his head though and he remains down to earth. When asked what he does with all the money he earns he says, “I use my paycheck to help buy groceries for my family.” He also enjoys seeing his friends at the Cooperage Project whenever there are events going on. “We have different events like music, the farmers market, dances, movies, and workshops,” says Alex, “I recommend people to come to the Cooperage to see what I do and I will gladly show them around!”

An offer like that is hard to resist!