While guiding a broom around the tire of a parked car, Ginny Matthews wears a bright orange traffic vest and talks about her six-year-old dog Socks and her weekend plans to take her 17-year-old daughter to get her senior pictures taken.
It's 10 a.m. Friday, and Matthews is one of four workers sweeping and picking up trash on School Street after the Downtown Farmers Market.
"Today it was one whole garbage bag filled with cloth things, cigarettes, all the stuff on the street. … It teaches us responsibility. It keeps me out of trouble," she says, laughing.
The city has contracted with United Cerebral Palsy of San Joaquin, Amador and Calveras Counties to ensure Downtown gets cleaned daily from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. The city hired the organization in November for $46,872 a year.
The employees have a wide range of disabilities, not just cerebral palsy. They receive minimum wage, and the crews clean for an average of 84 hours a week total.
The crew walks around Downtown sweeping up trash and leaves, wiping down light fixtures and benches, removing cobwebs and emptying trash cans.
The Downtown Lodi Business Partnership also hired the organization for an extra hour on Fridays, to focus on School Street after the Farmers Market.
Cellardoor owner Vanessa Foreman said she has noticed a big difference in cleanliness since the organization has started cleaning for that extra hour.
"You can't even tell the market was around," she said.
Lodi is the first city that UCP has contracted with to provide work crews. But the organization has been working around the city for years, starting in 2000 by cleaning the Downtown parking lots.
Besides the Downtown crew, the organization has one crew cleaning the bus stations, the train station and the Downtown parking garage, and another crew does landscaping at Hutchins Street Square.
Making a difference
On Friday, Matthews and three co-workers receive instructions from a supervisor. They then quickly head off in different directions to start cleaning.
With gloves tucked in his pants, a blue towel wrapped around his neck and a purple baseball cap and watch attached to his belt, Kevin Keuning sweeps leaves into a big blue dust pan. He usually takes the bus to work and then rides a scooter the rest of the way.
"We pull weeds out of the cracks," Keuning said. "It took me a long time to pull the weeds out by the movie theater."
People from out of town have commented on the cleanliness of Lodi's streets while shopping at Christensen's on School Street, employee Monika Clasen said. When she used to park in the parking garage, she could tell what days the crews were there.
"When I get here in the morning, they are already working. It's making a big difference because it's so clean out there."
'Life without limits'
George Bradley, the city's former streets and drainage manager, helped organize the partnership, which has grown to fill more and more niches, he said.
"I'd like to think that everybody in this country should have an opportunity to work," he said. "They're, one, capable of doing the work we have them doing. Two, they're thrilled to do it,"
With budget cuts this year, Bradley said the city might not be able to afford to have anyone Downtown cleaning the streets. When the group was hired in November, Bradley said the city was struggling to provide 12 hours of cleaning Downtown.
"It's a win for UCP; they're earning their money and given an opportunity. It's a win for our citizens whether it be our Downtown merchants or the people cruising around on our transit, and a win for the city because these are things we couldn't do ourselves because we don't have the resources," he said.
After the success of the Lodi program, Stockton and Manteca have both inquired about hiring crews, said Ray Call, the UCP's chief executive officer.
"Our main goal is life without limits for people with disabilities. We want for them to be independent, working, making money. … That builds pride, just like any job does for anyone," Call said.
UCP also places about 50 people in individual jobs at employers like Target, Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Lowe's, program manager Armando Ayala said.
The contract with the city provides additional revenue for the organization, and it provides a training opportunity, Ayala said. The organization provides on-site supervisors and coordinates transportation to work.
The opportunity is important, Ayala said, because people with disabilities are the most untapped workforce in the country.
"Can you imagine sitting at home all day playing video games or watching TV?" he said. "A lot of them don't transition into employment after high school."
The economic downturn has especially hurt the organization's ability to place clients into jobs, said Roberto Pacheco, a job developer. Besides a lack of jobs, the ones available require employees to multi-task, which can be hard for some people with disabilities.
"With repetition, they have it," she said. "If you throw something different, they have to learn it."
Training for future jobs
At the Hutchins Street Square worksite, crew supervisor Kim Rede tells Lester Hermance to use his leaf blower to clear debris from the parking lot and checks in with Todd Chinchiolo, who is mowing the grass.
The group spent all week focused on cleaning the area from the Rock the Square fundraiser on Friday night.
"I tell them, pretend this is your house," Rede said. "What do you want your house to look like?"
Rede has worked as a supervisor for six years. She worked in grocery stores for 14 years, but wanted to work with people with disabilities because her son has one, too. One of her former employees has worked at Safeway for two-and-a-half years.
"They get out of the house and earn a paycheck," she said. "They basically learn what it's like to get instructions from a supervisor."
While pulling out weeds, Ayala said he enjoys coming to work, and even rides his bike all the way from Stockton sometimes.
"When I worked jobs in the mall, I never got to do this," he said in reference to cleaning a flower bed. "I had a dust pan and broom in my hand, and that gets boring."