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Disabled man finds job, purpose

By: Megan Wood The Press Tribune
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Helpful and hard working are just a few of the words you might use to describe Jeff Berg – but independent is the one he’s worked hardest to earn. Looking at Berg, you might not suspect the tall, 50-year-old man with a calm and quiet demeanor is disabled in any way. But a childhood injury Berg has little recollection of has left him developmentally disabled. “Looking at him, no, you wouldn’t see him as being disabled,” said Alison Hoyer, program supervisor at Placer ARC, which provides life skills classes for disabled citizens. “(Berg’s disability) is always with him, it’s just more prevalent at times. Things take longer to understand, concepts that you and I take for granted, he has to learn and re-learn here in our programs.” Berg is one of many clients Hoyer has seen come to Placer County ARC after being laid off from their jobs due to the economic downturn. “They come back to keep their job skills sharp so that when jobs open up again, they will have a chance to work again,” Hoyer said. Berg worked at Atlantic Veterinary Clinic keeping the facility clean and helping out wherever he could. But with the economy in a tailspin last year, Berg was laid off. Realizing the odds were stacked against him in the job force, Berg began working with Placer ARC’s Innova crew, a program for disabled citizens that provides a paying part-time job and keeps their skills up to par. “I like to work,” Berg said. “I don’t like to sit still, I like to be able to do things and help out so I wanted to work until I have another job.” Each month, Berg works three to four days with the Innova crew stuffing, sealing and stamping envelopes to mail newsletters and fliers that local direct mail marketing company TechMarketing Autopilot, have contracted with Placer ARC clients. Through classes at Placer County’s ARC program, Berg has learned to do his own laundry, manage his finances and interact in the community, tools that have helped him gain independence and the means to support his family. Over their 18 years of marriage, Berg and his wife, Pam, have had an uphill battle in their fight to gain independence. “We both lived with our family and in a group home before people would let us be married and live in our apartment,” said Pam Berg, who is also developmentally disabled and limited physically due to a back injury. “People didn’t think we could do it, but Jeff and I, we do it.” The couple worked hard to gain their independence after living for a year and a half in a group home. Now the couple lives in their own apartment in Roseville and work as a team to complete the daily chores. “She goes grocery shopping and I put it away,” Berg said. “I’m learning the laundry and how to pay the bills with the money that I get from working.” Berg has also become proactive in hunting down odd jobs around the Placer ARC building and surrounding businesses such as pulling weeds, trash pick-up, recycling and janitorial duties. “His favorite nickname is Tinker,” said Pam. “Because he does all that at home, he helps me with the laundry and likes being able to fix things at home so I call him Tinker.” But perhaps the most valuable thing Berg has gained from Placer ARC, is an increase in self-confidence, Hoyer said. “I have seen him blossom an incredible amount,” she said. “I see him with more assurance in his classes and taking charge to help our other clients. He’s learned to persevere and that he has to work harder to have the things that others have. But he takes those lessons to heart and runs with it.” Megan Wood can be reached at meganw@goldcountrymedia.com