Residential Community Training,
Placing Residents In Local Jobs
By LIBBY CUDMORE • The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta
EDMESTON – When she was 16, Joanna Draper had a brain tumor removed and was in a coma for a month. Though she recovered, her short-term memory was all but gone, dashing her hopes of continuing to perform in musical theater.
But now, you can find her serenading customers at the Pathfinder Village bakery and café, where she has worked for two years. “I’m doing so well that they let me work here,” she said. “I sing to the customers. I give them a hug if they’re having a bad day. It’s about treating people how I want to be treated, with kindness and a smile.”
“Her parents recognized that she would fit in here as a hire, not as a service recipient,” said CEO Paul Landers. “And since she started working here, her neurologist has seen her memory improving.”
Pathfinder Village will be named NBT Bank’s “Business of Distinction” at the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce annual Gala & Celebration of Business at 5:45 p.m. Thursday, May 2, at Foothill Performing Arts Center.
In March, Pathfinder was named to the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Hall of Fame.
The double honor “speaks to our people and our great business model,” said Landers, “People come from all over the world to be here. We maintain a sense of community while supporting clinical needs.”
Originally established in 1922 as a two-building school for children with Down syndrome, the expansion to the village model in the 1970s was the brainchild of Marian G. Mullet, who died March 17. It included the bakery, an inn for visitors, a community health clinic and, most recently, soccer fields where community kids have a weekly league.
“We wanted young kids to come to our campus and get to know people with disabilities,” said Landers. “And we thought, what’s more natural than having them come play on our soccer fields?”
Landers has been with Pathfinder Village for 12 years; he first joined in 2000, moved to Tennessee in 2002 and returned in 2009. Under his tenure, a Bassett Clinic was opened on the campus, serving both the residents and the community. “We wanted to show Edmeston that we were valued citizens,” he said. “We’ve evolved, much like the disability community.”
At Pathfinder, Landers said they are seeing fewer children and more adults with a variety of developmental disabilities coming for job training opportunities. “We do hands-on, real-life training,” he said. “They do vocational rotation through the bakery, inn, produce market and administration offices.”
At the bakery, residents can learn to work the register, clean and organize, and at the inn, they can learn to turn over a room after a guest has used it. “We have a lot of hotel here and our staff is trained in housekeeping,” he said.
And their training programs have been a community boon. “We put out a survey asking what employers needed,” he said. “And then we tailored our training programs.”
He continued, “At Astrocom Electronics, they couldn’t find workers,” he said. “They were turning orders away. I asked what we could do to help.”
Pathfinder Village now sends a crew of seven workers – six paid, one on a “trial” basis – as well as two job coaches to Astrocom every day. “We’re developing a contract with them,” said Landers. “We want to build an employment agency on a grand scale.”
Former residents have also found work at Golden Artists Colors, others at Price Chopper, Silver Dollar Optical, NYCM or NBT Bank.
“We had one woman, Anya, who had been at the Otsego School since she was practically a baby,” said Landers. “She was raised by caregivers and graduated from the Pathfinder school, then worked at Bassett in housekeeping for 20 years. She just retired, the way so many of us do at the end of our careers. Everyone knew her and liked her.”
But they also use their developed skills to fulfill community needs. In 2013, they opened the Produce Market on Thursday afternoons in hopes of counteracting Edmeston’s “food desert,” where many residents don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables – leafy greens and herbs are their specialty – on a regular basis.
“Our residents grow, pick, wash, pack and sell all the produce,” said Landers.
The market has grown considerably and expanded since then. New this year is a “mobile market” which goes to other communities to offer fresh fruits and vegetables. “West Winfield just lost their grocery store, so we went there,” he said. “There’s a Dollar General moving in, which means that people will be living off frozen food and junk.”
But Landers said the work is not yet done. “Our five-year plan is to build mixed-use housing,” he said. “We want young people who work at NYCM or Bassett to live here too.”
The housing would also include spaces for people like Joanna, who are part of the Pathfinder Community. “We want to provide self-directed living opportunities for people with a variety of disabilities,” he said. “We see ourselves continuing to evolve, especially as we become more inclusive as a society and start to value our differences.”
As it is now, residents can live in apartments or houses with others. Resident Grant Stubbs, for example, has his own living room, bedroom and bathroom off a communal dining and living room.
“A lot of folks in the house come over to Grant’s to hang out,” he said, giving Grant a fist bump.
Mullet died in March at age 91. “It’s fitting that we’re being honored now,” said Landers. “Marian left behind a legacy, but I don’t think she ever envisioned how this community has touched so many people in so many ways.”