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On the Job with Selmaan and Damien

(L-R) Damien and Selmaan on the job at Kroger.
Selmaan and a co-worker.
Job Coach Damien observing Selmaan in action.
(L-R) Damien and Selmaan on the job at Kroger.
Selmaan and a co-worker.
Job Coach Damien observing Selmaan in action.

Selmaan Ali and Damien Barnes both love helping people. Fortunately, their jobs call on them to do just that. Selmaan helps customers as a courtesy clerk at Kroger, and Damien helps people with disabilities find and keep employment. 

Damien came to Frazer in 2018 as a Direct Support Professional, working with adults with developmental disabilities. After completing a year-long training program to become a Job Coach, he transitioned into Frazer’s Supported Employment Program in 2019. 

Selmaan worked at Home Depot for eight and a half years before he lost that job during the pandemic. That’s when Alicia Day, his friend and Home Depot co-worker—and Frazer Ex-officio Board Member—suggested he look to the Frazer Center for help. 

Selmaan took Alicia’s advice and went through Frazer’s intake process. With the help of waivers from the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, he and Damien began searching for his next job.

That search typically begins with Damien getting to know each job-seeker—their skills, their physical capabilities, their goals and dreams. Then they start to zero in on possible work scenarios that the job-seeker might enjoy.

“I like to start searching closest to my client’s home first,” says Damien. “If I can’t find something in that area, that’s when I start to branch out.”

Selmaan had worked as an express cashier at a Target in Los Angeles, and he really wanted to do that again here in Atlanta. Damien tried to make headway at several Target locations, but to no avail. 

Damien was already working with another Frazer participant at a nearby Kroger location, and he knew that particular store to have a warm and welcoming environment, so he and Selmaan focused their efforts there. “I spoke to the head of Human Resources, got Selmaan an interview, and he pretty much blew them away.”

“I like the people here a lot,” says Selmaan. “I like the way they help me when I’m struggling with something. They either give me a tip or they show me how to do something. That’s really helped me out a lot.”

As Selmaan’s job coach, Damien went to work with him every day throughout the orientation and training period. Eventually those visits will taper to twice a month to allow Damien to observe Selmaan on the job and make sure everything is running smoothly for him and his supervisors. 

“Damien helps me with tough situations,” says Selmaan. “He helps me work through those things that I struggle with sometimes.”

Selmaan is one of only a handful of Frazer’s Supported Employment participants who have returned to work since the pandemic began. 

“Dealing with the pandemic has been quite a journey when it comes to supported employment,” Damien says. “People are scared.” For those who live in a group home, there’s a big concern about potentially exposing roommates to COVID. “A lot of people had to stop working and still haven’t gone back,” says Damien. “It’s only been a few months since some have returned to work. We’re going to continue to work with everyone to see if we can get them all back to work.”

Selmaan lives in his own apartment. He has a 20-minute commute that includes a MARTA train and bus, but with the help of his family, he is moving to an apartment closer to his store. He hopes to be at Kroger for a long time to come. His favorite part of the job is helping customers, and when a customer expresses their gratitude for him, that’s icing on the cake. He also loves learning new skills and hopes to be a cashier one day.

Selmaan admits that the paycheck is nice too. “I’m saving for a trip to visit my aunt in Los Angeles.”

Helping Selmaan achieve his goals and dreams is what motivates Damien. “If I can be an advocate to make sure you’re being treated right and you can achieve your goals, that’s what I want to do. That makes me feel good.” 

If you would like to learn more about Frazer Center’s Supported Employment Program, email Director of Adult Services Unondus Walker at u.walker@frazercenter.org.