Striding to the front of the chapel without taking a pause, Julie Bolton introduced herself to a group of Nebraska residents.
“I’m Julie Bolton, and I work really hard.”
In addition to working at Deines Pharmacy and cleaning up local churches, Bolton is a spokesperson and community outreach member at Mosaic, a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.
When Bolton isn’t working, she enjoys getting her hair and nails done, playing with Mosaic’s cat, Jazzy, and going to the movies and out to eat. Bolton said she also likes traveling and Elvis, and has visited Graceland twice.
“It was beautiful,” Bolton said.
Amy Bell, executive director at Mosaic, said that Bolton has mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.
“She’s a productive, mature woman whether she has intellectual disabilities or not,” Bell said. “She’s got a good voice, and represents us well. Through the years Julie has made a lot of improvement in managing her social interactions, because we’ve realized that personal choice, providing opportunities, is crucial. Julie has all of that. When you see someone like Julie, she wants the same things that you and I want.”
Mosaic gives people like Bolton housing and job opportunities to help them provide for themselves.
Bell said that roughly 100 people live in Mosaic’s community-based setting.
“We support them with whatever task they need, whether it’s helping with balancing checkbooks or getting groceries,” Bell said. “We have some folks that we just help with vocation, getting a job, maintaining a job, learning skills to get a job.”
Margie Higgins, the production supervisor, explained some of the jobs the residents do in their day-service workshop.
“We work on Oriental Trading Company, so we do a lot of the party kits,” Higgins said. “Right now we’ve got about 12,000 happy sacks that we’re doing for like a Chuck E. Cheese or any type of little party goods store.”
She added residents assemble the pieces of the kits, then get paid per label on the bag.
“Every motion that they have is paid,” Higgins said. “The prevailing wage for assembly is almost $11 an hour. So if our individuals can work as fast as our three staff that I had do that exact same job, they would be making 11 dollars an hour. But they work at their own level.”
Higgins said they also primarily assemble kits for Neapco Inc.
“We have 53 different kits that we do for Neapco,” Higgins said. “That is done with the auto industry, so we have to stay at military standards, which is less than half a percent error. We’ve been able to do that for about 20 years, and we do about a half a million of those a year. Each one of those kits has its own code, so when they assemble, if it be two pieces or 100 pieces, they would make that accordingly."
Higgins said residents are paid depending on the number of pieces each kit has, which is anywhere from about 2-25 cents for every bag that they would complete.
She added one of the residents that works with Neapco is legally blind, so he uses a template to make sure he has all the components to fill the kit.
“His accuracy rate from moving the parts to those shadows, is like 99.8 percent,” Higgins said. “It’s wonderful. He’s very meticulous about what he does. When he’s completely done assembling everything into the bag, he’ll wipe the template and make sure that he hasn’t missed anything.”
Higgins said they also make fire starters from old candles donated from the Bargain Box, mixed with wood shavings left over from the Ratigan-Schottler Manufacturing church benches. The fire starters are then given to the Bargain Box to sell. They also make items like door mats that are sold there.
Higgins added they got to keep the screen printing department, unofficially called Mosaic wear, when Martin Luther Home and Bethphages Inner Mission Association merged and became Mosaic in 2002.
“We have a catalog online on our website that parents and staff and guardians of any sort can go and shop,” Higgins said. “Those orders come to us and we fill those. If you see the KWBE shirts, those are all done here. We have residents folding those, doing simple prints. They coordinate them by color and size, so we can return them to the customer all folded. But with the 5,000 employees that Mosaic has across the nation, we also do all the apparel.”
Higgins said in total the residents get paid $3,000 to $4,000 biweekly.
“That’s what they can go on vacation, go out to eat [with],” Higgins said. “They can buy televisions, whatever things that they are wanting to do. And they all know that if they work hard they make money.”
During their breaks, residents can use the break or lounge areas and watch reruns of black and white show like Bonanza and Rifleman, as well as use the computer room.
“Individuals can go and look up recipes,” Higgins said. “They’ve also Skyped family and sent and received emails, which is really nice.”
Bell said about 96 percent of Mosaic is funded through Medicaid, and the remaining four percent is made up through fundraising.
Alice Meints, a volunteer at the Bargain Box, said they donate all their proceeds to Mosaic. Meints said last year they raised over $60,000.
Bell said she appreciates that the Mosaic residents are welcomed throughout Beatrice.
“It’s a very accessible town, very open, welcoming,” Bell said. “I’ve rarely had issues where we’ve had a community member treat somebody rudely. I don’t think I’ve ever had it, actually, where we’ve felt picked on or bullied or anything like that.”
“I know I’ve talked to executive directors in other towns, and they still have places they can’t go because there’s no accessibility,” Bell said. “That’s just insane to me.”
Bell said part of the acceptance comes from people having either worked for Mosaic, or knowing someone who has.
“And it may not be in direct care, they might’ve been a cook or a maintenance guy or a teacher,” Bell said.
Meints follows this sentiment. In addition to working at the Bargain Box, Meints is a previous employee of Mosaic, and is still an ambassador for it.
“This was a wonderful place to work,” Meints said, “because the people who lived here taught me a lot more than I ever taught them. More importantly though, I believe that the people who live here have a God-given right to live their lives to the fullest potential possible, and that happens here. I’ve seen it happen through the years.”
Mosaic holds informational events and tours roughly once a month. Anyone looking to volunteer at Mosaic should contact Jessica Javorsky at firstname.lastname@example.org