A.J. Girolami loves his job.
“It’s a great place,” the 26-year-old Belleville resident said. “I have more fun here than I had at the other workshop I was in.”
He has only been on the job for a week but has found his place with Phoenix Recycling & Shredding at 206 S. Ruby Lane in Fairview Heights. Located next to Moody Park, he and other developmentally disabled individuals have found work as well as a sense of independence.
Vintage Support Group Inc. in Belleville operates three recycling and document-shredding sites in the metro-east and anticipates opening a fourth within the next three months. The recycling and shredding service began 11 years ago and provides metro-east residents and businesses a place to safely destroy and dispose documents and recycle paper, newsprint, cardboard, plastic and glass.
Vintage Support Group was formed in 1993 as Support System and Services. The nonprofit organization is licensed and funded by the Department of Human Services. Today, Support System and Services now has 26 different group homes throughout Southwestern Illinois, including Belleville, Troy, Alton, Sparta and Centralia.
Executive Director Beth Sahuri said their clients work five-hour shifts during the week and on Saturdays, and Vintage Support Group pays each a wage. She said the recycling and shredding service provides these individuals, who have mental disabilities or have suffered traumatic brain injuries, with purpose and responsibility.
“When we started, we realized there was a major need for our individuals to do something besides stay at home,” Sahuri said.
Phoenix Recycling & Shredding is also located at 2795 South Belt West in Belleville and 900 Royal Heights Road in Belleville. Sahuri said another is anticipated to open by October on St. Clair Avenue in Fairview Heights, across from the Fairview Heights MetroLink Station. She said the recycling and shredding business has been designed as a training program that helps some clients adapt to the working world.
“Usually everyone starts off here,” she said. “They kind of figure out what their needs are, what are their wants and figure out what they can do. Some of the individuals’ work ethics are just amazing. There is one guy who will not stop to eat lunch at all. He works from the time he gets there ’til the time he leaves. It’s hard to get him to take a break.”
Steve Jaques, director of operations at Phoenix Recycling & Shredding, said clients can drop off their recyclables and in some instances watch as workers shred paper and documents. Phoenix will also provide a certificate of destruction.
Shredding costs a minimum of $5. In general shredding is available for 12 cents per pound or $4 for a banker’s box or smaller. Phoenix will also provide 64-gallon containers for businesses to fill with recyclables for $40 for the first container and $30 for any additional ones. Phoenix will also pick up recyclable material.
“They keep pretty busy,” Jaques said. “We have professional staff out there, and we have on any given day seven or eight of the individuals that we support. They are there to greet the customers and sort out the materials, and they have a good time doing it. Some of the people in the community are getting to know the people who work out there, and there’s a good relationship going on there and rapport.”
At the Ruby Lane site, T.C. Bush supervises the workers who are trained to do everything from carrying boxes and sweeping the floor to driving trucks and forklifts.
“They know how to run all of the machines,” Bush said. “They can pretty much run it all on their own. They know the set up.”
Gary Piat, 62, of Swansea, has worked at Phoenix for the past 11 years. He drives a forklift and is persistent in making sure paper, cardboard, plastic and glass are separated and sorted when they reach him.
“I hate it when you get a bag, and it’s not all separated,” Piat said. “You have to take them out one at a time. Newspaper in one bag, glass in another bag...”
Rica Walker, 25, of Swansea, started working at the Fairview Heights recycling and shredding site in 2011.
“I like to put the paper in the machine and shred the paper,” Walker said. “I also go out in the community and businesses and grab paper.”
Bush said some, like Walker, will work toward transitioning into the job market. Bush said Phoenix workers have gone on to work in retail and restaurants in the metro-east. She said one client has recently started working at a Walmart and others have been hired by local Lowe’s stores and the Weekends Only furniture store in Fairview Heights.
Walker said she would like to find a job at an elementary school.
“I’m thinking maybe working in a grade school and help around with teachers, like hanging up posters and cleaning up, kind of like a janitor or a teacher’s helper,” she said.
Sahuri said the recycling and shredding business is a vital component to Vintage Support Group’s operation. She is concerned that some competitors have provided on-site shredding, which is difficult for Phoenix to compete with.
“That becomes a real problem because once we bring in the on-site shredding, it decreases the work for the individuals,” she said. “If you have on-site shredding, it’s usually a box truck and they’re feeding it and that only takes one person to do a whole load of paper. So you’re taking away maybe three to four individuals’ work by that on-site shredding. We’ve never had a problem with documents being compromised, and we always provide a document-destruction log.”
Diedre Foote, Vintage Support group director of Developmental Training Programs at 5801 Mt. Pleasant Lane in Belleville, said local residents need to realize the important services Vintage Support Group provides for the community.
“I don’t feel like the community is necessarily inclusive or educated enough about developmental disabilities and what the capabilities of our folks are,” Foote said. “A lot of them, on days, work harder than me. It’s the physical labor that they can do and the enthusiasm that they have for work. They can’t necessarily go get a job and fill out an application like we do. So we have provided these opportunities, and we need the community to provide us the product and give us the work so that we can employ the individuals.”
Sahuri also wants the community to know about their service and mission to conserve resources while serving as a leading regional employer of those with development disabilities.
“A lot of people just don’t know we’re out there,” she said. “There’s other recycling and shredding companies that are in the area. I think people want to do good for others if they knew that they’re providing work for these individuals plus gratification and purpose of life. I think there is just a need to get the word out about our services and what we do.”
Girolami has not been shy about telling his supervisor how much he enjoys collecting plastic bottles and loading them in a bailing machine at Phoenix’s Fairview Heights recycling and shredding site.
“I would rather work here than the other place,” he said. “It’s very fun, there’s a lot more stuff to do, and we always have work. And I like to work.”
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 618-239-2526.