2018-08-08 / Front Page

Agency partnership helps staff Lapeer County’s parks

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 • npugliese @mihomepaper.com


Lapeer’s Stephen Conger began as a trainee at Torzewski Park but has since been promoted to a Team Lead thanks to his excelling within the parks partnership. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Lapeer’s Stephen Conger began as a trainee at Torzewski Park but has since been promoted to a Team Lead thanks to his excelling within the parks partnership. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese LAPEER COUNTY — For many, it seems like the pair of Lapeer County parks — Torzewski County Park in Oregon Township and General Squier Park in Dryden Township — have always been there. The water parks have always been open, the nature trails always carefully manicured and the grounds have always been maintained.

But less than a decade ago, both parks were closed, and nearly permanently until a partnership between Lapeer Team Work, Lapeer County Community Mental Health, Lapeer County Parks and Michigan Rehabilitation Services was formed.

Spearheaded by then-director of Lapeer County Mental Health Dr. Robert Sprague in 2010, the partnership works in tandem to staff and maintain both county parks, and today, both parks are able to open their gates and offer their services to the public thanks largely to Sprague’s vision.


Madison Snyder of Lapeer works in the concessions booth of Torzewski Park and is a Team Work client. Through the parks program, Snyder has acquired customer service skills and food handling experience that can transfer to continued employment beyond the summer. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Madison Snyder of Lapeer works in the concessions booth of Torzewski Park and is a Team Work client. Through the parks program, Snyder has acquired customer service skills and food handling experience that can transfer to continued employment beyond the summer. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese In action, the partnership sees staffing carried out by Lapeer Team Work, a not-forprofit organization that works with local employers to solve their employment issues and/ or other job-related issues while providing opportunity for those with barriers to employment find sustainable employment.

Operations Director Kaylee Zapata said that each summer, Lapeer Team Work provides the means for around 50 employees between the two parks to gain work experience handling the parks’ maintenance and concessions. For Lapeer Team Work, said Zapata, it’s a win-win — the parks get a stream of reliable, enthusiastic workers, and the workers gain something that may be even more valuable than a paycheck in real work experience. “The ultimate goal is to help train the individual (employed at the parks) and get them independent,” said Zapata.

Team Work employees handle the maintenance of the park and learn the ins and outs of maintaining a large outdoor area. Both parks are 80-100 acres, and Team Work trainees are taught proper use and care of a variety of landscape equipment. “It’s really nice that we’re not only teaching them the use of the equipment but the safety and maintenance that goes along with it,” said Zapata. “You complete this program and acquire transferable skills to achieve competitive employment.”

And that’s the key, according to Zapata. Team Work’s goal is to get its clients to a point where they’re competing for the same employment opportunities as those without barriers to employment, and the parks partnership is an important step toward achieving that goal. Team Work trainees work closely with Lapeer County Parks staffers to ensure the daily care of both parks, but they’re largely self-motivated, an arrangement that has seen nearly 300 success stories over the eight years of the partnership. “There have been so many success stories,” Zapata said. “Working at the park, it’s an opportunity for people to return to the workforce, build confidence and independence.”

Zapata admits working at the parks might not be for everyone. The routine is tough, and the work isn’t easy. But while the Team Work clients learn transferable work skills at the parks, they also learn something that may be in even shorter supply — work ethic. Team Work clients are on the ground at both parks prepping for opening, maintaining the operations and winding the grounds down from May to October, rain or shine, seven days a week. “That tends to be what we see overall, we have more success stories than we’ve had people move on from the program early,” said Zapata. “These are not easy days, but employers are hurting for good employees, and our clients are happy and enthusiastic.”

In a role that might be called a “silent partner,” Michigan Rehabilitation Services is a state organization that provides specialized employment and education-related services and training to assist teens and adults with disabilities in becoming employed or retaining employment.

Their funding ensures the partnership prospers, said Zapata, and this year, Team Work has been able to assist Michigan Rehabilitation Services in securing employment for clients that participate in the parks program. “We can help find that position that (clients) are passionate about,” she said. “Individuals with barriers to employment deserve a job, and a job doing something that they enjoy.”

Zapata said she hopes that the partnership between Lapeer Team Work, Lapeer County Community Mental Health, Lapeer County Parks and Michigan Rehabilitation Services continues indefinitely, and as long as the interest and the funding are there, Lapeer Team Work will continue to supply staffers for both county parks. “It’s a really cool partnership with a lot of people that came together to serve the community,” she said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

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