Making a difference Mom helps son—and others—find jobs

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Taylor Dahlquist
Taylor Dahlquist now works in a company his family launched to help find jobs for people who need employment support.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

Despite a strong desire to hold down a job, Taylor Dahlquist had difficulties finding work. Prospective employers were reluctant to give him a chance to prove that a young man like him—a young man with disabilities—would be reliable, productive and capable of working without constant supervision.

Realizing that many disabled people faced a similar challenge, Taylor’s mom, Carrie, set out on a mission to find jobs for them. Taylor’s dad, Patrick, and other family members assisted her. The result was CHOICE Employment Services, a family-owned agency based in Decorah since its inception in 2012. The agency has served over 100 people, including Taylor.

Taylor was born in 1989, the oldest of five children. Like all parents, Carrie and Richard had big dreams for their son—dreams that seemed shattered when Taylor sustained a brain injury from being forcefully shaken by a babysitter. The Dahlquist family worked hard to ensure that Taylor had access to the same opportunities as his siblings. He attended public school, participated in extracurricular activities and graduated high school in 2008.

As he got older, Taylor wanted independence—personal and financial. He wanted his own place to live—he was still living with his parents—and he wanted to support himself with a regular paycheck. At the time, Taylor was receiving state aid for food assistance and disability payments. He knew he could handle a job and so did his mom.

“We have never focused on Taylor’s disabilities, we have only focused on his abilities,” Carrie said.

Carrie helped her son land a job at Wal-Mart where he started out pushing carts. A job coach there helped him through the tougher tasks in his job.

“Taylor thrived there and soon was known and loved throughout Wal-Mart for his upbeat and hearty personality,” Carried added.

Her experience with Taylor was enough to convince Carrie that she and her family could make a similar difference in the lives of others. That was their goal when they opened their business seven years ago.

CHOICE originally covered 10 counties in Northeast Iowa and one in Southwest Wisconsin. They scaled back to six Iowa counties, including Clayton. The people they place—called consumers—are assessed to see how their skills and interest match up with available positions. They also receive coaching in benefits planning and job development.

In Clayton County, CHOICE consumers work at Johnson’s Restaurant, Elkader Care Center, and the Strawberry Point Lutheran Home, to name a few.

“Our consumers perform jobs ranging from dishwashers to cart pushers, custodial work, cashiers, stockers and more,” explained Ethan Dahlquist, the company’s marketing director. “We ask employers to look past the disability and focus on the abilities, as everyone has struggles and challenges that they must face and overcome everyday.”

CHOICE consumers are paid at least minimum wage; many earn around $10 and hour. The agency has three regional directors who approach employers about job possibilities for their consumers.

Taylor no longer works at Wal-Mart. He is employed in the family business as a field director training new job coaches on how appropriately work in the field. He no longer receives state aid. He lives on his own and has become financially independent.

“Independence is something we strive twards, especially for our consumers in their employment,” Ethan said.
 

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