October is National Disability Awareness Month. To raise awareness about one local program to benefit the disabled, Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent Curt Sauer made a presentation Thursday morning about the DesertArc program at the Basin Wide Foundation’s monthly breakfast meeting at the Helen Gray Center in Joshua Tree.
DesertArc, a nonprofit organization based in Palm Desert, California, is a work training center that offers advocacy, training, personalized coaching, and employment opportunities on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities. Through its programs, Desert Arc promotes independence, personal growth and development for the disabled, and economic opportunity placement of program participants in paying jobs. DesertArc provides businesses and organizations with trained individuals who can perform a variety of services.
Speaking to Basin Wide Foundation members, Sauer described a partnership between Joshua Tree National Park and DesertArc that has been in operation since June. Diana Simpson of DesertArc and Elena Juarez, Joshua Tree’s Campgrounds Supervisor for the park’s Maintenance Division, developed an agreement with Desert Arc identifying the specific services DesertArc would provide. DesertArc recruited a number of workers who help with custodial services in the park’s headquarters at Twentynine Palms. DesertArc enrollees work with program coaches and learn how to carry out basic cleaning and janitorial activities at the Oasis Visitor Center and other park offices. Workers are hired under a special hiring authority as National Park Service employees and are funded through the National Park Service Centennial Initiative. DesertArc participants wear National Park Service uniforms as they go about their tasks and interact with park staff and members of the public.
Benefits of the program for the park include helping the agency achieve hiring goals for seasonal workers under the Centennial Initiative, more frequent custodial services at key park facilities, and the ability to shift other park employees to tasks such as campground and picnic area maintenance that improves the visitor experience. The four employees hired through the DesertArc program receive federal jobs, gain a steady income, learn job and life skills, and achieve independence and improved self-esteem. Each DesertArc recruit receives training from a personal coach who works with park supervisors and work leaders to ensure that job skills and tasks are performed according to park standards. Coaches work with individual workers until they are able to perform their assigned duties independently. DesertArc provides transportation to and from the work site for its recruits and provides capable replacement workers in the event of employee absences.
The park’s non-profit partner, the Joshua Tree National Park Association, has also been using the DesertArc program to provide custodial services at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center in the community of Joshua Tree. “This has been a great program for us,” said Joshua Tree Chief of Maintenance John Slaughter. “We’ve been able to realize significant improvements in our operations by working with DesertArc, and the program really ties the park to the local community.”
Superintendent Sauer encouraged attendees at the Basin Wide Foundation breakfast—business and community leaders from all across the Morongo Basin—to look at how the DesertArc program could benefit their organizations and to consider forging their own partnerships with DesertArc.
For more information about the DesertArc program, visit their web site: www.desertarc.org, or call DesertArc at 760-346-1611.