2010-03-04 / Business

Agoura Hills educational crafts company partners with Villa Esperanza

JOINING HANDS—NatureWatch CEO Jeff  Salzman and president  Harold  Gordon oversee a Villa Esperanza crew as they prepare kits for mailing. RICK MENDOZA/Special to The Acorn JOINING HANDS—NatureWatch CEO Jeff Salzman and president Harold Gordon oversee a Villa Esperanza crew as they prepare kits for mailing. RICK MENDOZA/Special to The Acorn The Agoura Hills-based Nature-Watch company has entered into an agreement with Villa Esperanza Services to provide employment for several of Villa’s developmentally disabled clients.

Villa Esperanza is a nonprofit organization that helps with the care and education of children and adults with developmental disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.

In 2003, Nature-Watch president Harold Gordon and CEO Jeff Salzman acquired a business that provides educational products and craft activity kits designed to teach children about nature. In 2006 they hired a Villa crew to assist with the company’s packaging and decided to do it again.

The initial employment crew performed counting, weighing and bagging chores. As the workers became increasingly embedded in the company, they began playing a larger part in the dayto-day operations.

Current duties include the assembly of kits into their final form, a task that requires a high level of consistency, accuracy and attention to detail.

Villa’s employment program helps unite individuals with developmental disabilities with employers who are looking for loyal and long-lasting workers. Opportunities include group supported employment and individualized work experiences in the community.

The success of this worktraining partnership is seen as an example of the growing trend toward cooperation between social services and the business community.

“With the tough economic climate, the public and private sectors are quickly coming to the realization that hiring the folks with disabilities is just plain good business,” said Charles Bloomquist, director of employment services for Villa’s West Region offices.

“The more people work, the more dollars they earn, and the more they earn the less dependent upon the state and its tax dollars they become, not to mention their self-esteem increases like you wouldn’t believe,” Bloomquist said.

A recent Gallup poll of more than 800 American consumers who were asked for their input on brand loyalty found that the third most attractive corporate initiative for American consumers, behind healthcare and recycling, is employers who commit to hiring individuals with disabilities.

Villa serves Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Villa’s programs in Conejo Valley include independent living services, employment services, an integrated work program and adult residential services.

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