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Small nonprofit aids intellectually disabled adults

Ethel Sparling chose to work on her 59th birthday. Ask her how old she is, though, and she says 89. It is a result of her dementia.

“You look pretty good for an 89-year-old,” a staffer tells her.

Sparling rocks back and forth in her chair, unable to contain her laughter.

She is busy sorting playing cards by suit Feb. 14 at Progressive Choices, 3000 Rigel Ave. Sparling and others get the casinos’ old decks and sort and repackage them to be sold in gift shops or elsewhere.

Progressive Choices is a nonprofit organization in Spring Valley that provides vocational training for intellectually disabled adults. It is similar to Opportunity Village but smaller, helping about 100 people per month.

About 25 clients work in the dining commons at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Clients have worked in the past at McCarran International Airport, Banana Republic, The Venetian and World Market Center. They earn minimum wage and mostly perform cleaning and janitorial services but also may work in stocking, packaging and assembly. One client has worked for the past 15 years at a coffee shop at Palace Station.

Progressive even employs a few of its own.

Marcus Olige has cerebral palsy but has found his niche as a greeter at the front desk of Progressive’s vocational center for the past 12 years. He uses a joystick as a mouse for his computer and types, slow and steady, using his thumb. He also plans to attend College of Southern Nevada starting in March and wants to get a degree in psychology.

“Progressive Choices gives me something to do,” Olige said. “It also shows me, just like everybody else, I can do a job.”

Olige is slow with his words but well-spoken. He is the face of Progressive Choices at fundraisers and other outreach programs.

Behind Olige sits Tonya Zwick, who is blind and has a seizure disorder. She answers the phone and takes messages for the staff. She also searches craigslist.org for potential jobs for Progressive’s clients. Words on the screen are translated into a braille output device so she can read them.

Progressive was opened in 1997 by Bob Hogue and his two daughters, Michelle Gerard and Kim Hogue-McCord, who previously ran group homes for disabled adults in California.

Gerard and Hogue-McCord have been working with disabled populations since they were teenagers, Hogue-McCord said.

“It just feels right,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I love the vocational and job training aspect. It just warms your heart when you see these individuals say, ‘This is my check.’ They’re the best employees in the world.”

Hogue-McCord, who is Progressive’s vice president, praised other local organizations that offer similar services, such as Opportunity Village, Transition Services and Easter Seals Nevada.

“Our program might not fit everybody perfectly,” she said. “It’s their choice. We’re a small provider; it’s more of a small atmosphere. A lot of people like that.”

Progressive is looking to expand job offerings for its clients. Interested employers can call 702-248-9484 or visit progressivechoices.org for more information.

 

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 702-224-5524.

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