SALT LAKE CITY — Celeste Knoles has been on the job for just two days at the Salt Lake City Police Department, and there's a noticeable difference in her outlook.
“This has just done wonders for her self-confidence. You watch her, and she's got a bounce in her step,” said Brenda Maxwell, Knoles’ job coach with Columbus Community Center, a Salt Lake nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities live and work in the community.
Knoles and Greg Smith, through a supported employment program run by Columbus, have been hired by the police department to perform clerical duties in its investigative bureau.
Smith, who will work five hours a week, will place in order about 1,000 pawn tickets collected by the department each week. When people pawn items, they are required to provide their fingerprints and photo IDs. The information is then collected by police to help recover stolen property.
Knoles’ job is to assist Kari Roberts, a civilian employee in charge of the pawn unit, in entering the information into the department’s records system, where it is cross-referenced with theft and burglary reports and other criminal databases. Knoles will work with Roberts 20 hours a week.
Working at the police department “is just unbelievable," Knoles said.
"I’m just so dazzled by it all," she said. “I’m so proud I get to work there with the other officers and I get to help the community.”
On Wednesday, the Columbus Community Center hosted the police department to introduce Smith and Knoles to Chief Chris Burbank.
Burbank said the center’s supported employment program opened his eyes to another source of hardworking employees.
“I am always looking for good employees. That's what this is was about,” he said.
To mark the occasion, Burbank presented Knoles and Smith with miniature replicas of his badge.
“Not all employees get this so they're going to be a little jealous," the chief said. "This is replica of my badge. It matches mine exactly, only it’s smaller. The only way to get this is from me."
Supported employment helps prepare people with disabilities to work in their communities. Some people require full-time job coaches, while others simply need assistance learning how to use mass transit, said Stephanie Mackay, Columbus’ foundation director.
“Individuals with disabilities face a 65 percent unemployment rate, and that doesn't matter if there's a good economy or a bad economy," Mackay said. "They're just folks who have incredible obstacles to overcome in the community to find work.
"So our supportive employment program stays focused on building partnerships with the community to see if we can identify jobs, prepare people, and get them placed in jobs and help them overcome those obstacles,” she said.
Smith starts his job Monday, which he anticipates will be “fun.”
“I’m very happy,” he said.
Maxwell said Knoles was initially concerned whether she would encounter criminals at the public safety building. After two days, she says she no longer needs full-time support of a job coach.
“As she calls it, she doesn’t want to be baby-sat,” Maxwell said.
Knoles now approaches her job with full-blown enthusiasm, Maxwell said.
“She is very excited, just thrilled," she said. "She calls it serving her country.”
Knoles' mother, Judy, said her daughter rides public transportation to work and is highly independent.
As a parent, Judy Knoles said she has hoped that Celeste, "who is very high-functioning," could someday find meaningful employment.
"This has been an answer to prayer," she said.
Roberts said Knoles and Smith will help her work through a teeming workload that needs to be addressed as soon as possible because it increases the likelihood of returning stolen property to victims and prosecuting thieves.
“That's why we need these resources, to get it done faster,” Roberts said of her new colleagues.