Thanks to a loving family, a caring community and DES services
The Department of Economic Security (DES) makes Arizona stronger by helping Arizonans reach their potential through temporary assistance for those in need, and care for the vulnerable. Sometimes, that assistance serves as a platform to propel an individual to achieve outcomes beyond expectations. That’s what happened with Zheric Figueroa. By his own determination and character, and with a little help from DES and the Tucson community, Figueroa has become a shining star to those who come in contact with him.
Zheric Figueroa, who prefers to be known by his nickname, Keli’i (in honor of his father’s Hawaiian heritage), has been a member of the DES Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) since childhood. Now at age 25, Keli’i has grown to be an independent, responsible and well-respected man. One DES service he took advantage of is the DDD Transition to Employment (TTE) program. TTE is a service that provides DDD members with individualized instruction, training and supports to promote skill development for integrated and competitive employment. Keli’i received these services through WorkAbility, a DDD contracted job training provider.
Zheric (Keli’i) Figueroa holds his Shine Award and an honorary hat. The certificate, signed by Gjermundson Jake, reads: We would like to express our thanks and appreciation for your hard work, dedication and commitment. Thank you for your outstanding service to Mister Car Wash.
“WorkAbility is a very dynamic provider achieving great employment outcomes for our members,” said Margaret Corcoran, DDD Employment Services Manager.
After completing his TTE training, Keli’i further developed his skills by enrolling in the DES Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program. VR helped him with his resume and provided clothing to wear on interviews.
With the trainings and supports offered through DDD, and the job-seeking services offered through VR, Keli’i was hired at Mister Car Wash in Tucson on May 14, 2018. One year later, on May 19, 2019, Keli’i was awarded a Shine Award, designating him Employee of the Year at the Kolb and Golf Links location.
Each Mister Car Wash facility holds an annual Employee Appreciation Day. “Each site level has to choose their own employee that they want to give the award to,” explained Gjermundson Jake, General Manager of the Kolb and Golf Links location. “Myself and my management team decided to give [Keli’i] the Shine Award because he’s always here, dedicated, always has a great attitude, smiles all the time ... gives it his all each day.”
Keli’i primary task is vacuuming. “I like my job,” said Keli’i. But his work doesn’t stop there. When business is slow, or when all the cars have been taken care of, Keli’i picks up a broom and starts sweeping.
Employee of the year Zheric (Keli’i) Figueroa and his mother, Jenny Figueroa, outside their home in Tucson.
“I always stay busy,” said Keli’I, “because it makes sense to me. You can’t be slacking off.”
“He’s always working,” said WorkAbility’s Julie Williams. “If there are no cars around, he sweeps the floor. He always finds something to do. He’s diligent, super sweet and the customers love him.”
According to Jake, “You want to be around the guy.”
Keli’i reflected, “I’m really doing a good job in taking pride in myself. But I take time to know what I have to do.”
Keli’i’s overall development and on-the-job success were made possible through years of supports, encouragement and trainings.
“DDD’s been helpful the entire time,” said Figueroa. “He’s had a lot of direction all along.” Keli’i attended a preschool early intervention program offered through the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). After graduating from TUSD, Keli’i and his brother went to “community transition,” a service that helps 18-year-olds transition out of high school.
“They were fantastic,” said Figueroa. Those “wonderful programs – DDD, community transition, WorkAbility – those three have been integral in his development.”
Currently, Keli’i is enrolled in the DDD Individual Supported Employment (ISE) program. Through ISE, Keli’i has a coach come in once a week to check on him and help with ongoing computer training. “He’s getting the natural supports, too, at Mister Car Wash, which says a lot about [the employer], “ said Williams.
Thanks to his Mister Car Wash earnings, Keli’i can exercise his inclination for independence. “He loves shopping now,” said Figueroa. “That’s his thing: going out and being very independent, doing his own [grocery and clothes] shopping. He’s really taken over the household.”
Williams commented, “We [at WorkAbility] felt honored to have worked with them [Keli’i and his brother]; nice family … I know he’ll go far.” And shine along the way.
By Lyn Riley