“Am I Not?” A Conversation with Angela Greene on Leaving the Sheltered Workshop for Competitive Integrated Employment

In this episode, we talk with Angela Greene. After 21 years in a sheltered workshop, she left in favor of competitive integrated employment as a Dining Room Attendant at the University of South Carolina. She is also a founding member and secretary of I.M.P.A.C.T. South Carolina.

This podcast is a continuation of Angela’s presentation during the DETAC webinar, Employment First 2.0: Developing a Foundation for Excelling Systems Change Efforts through Legislative Action. Angela is also a poet. Listen to the end of this podcast to hear her read two of her poems, “Am I Not” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”.



Announcer: You’re listening to the AoD Disability Employment Technical Assistance Center podcast, where we learn from people who are working to improve competitive integrated employment and economic outcomes for people with disabilities.

In today’s episode, we talk with Angela Greene. After 21 years in a sheltered workshop, she left in favor of competitive integrated employment as a Dining Room Attendant at the University of South Carolina. She is also a founding member and secretary of Impact South Carolina.

Today’s podcast is a continuation of Angela’s presentation during our webinar, “Employment First 2.0: Developing a Foundation for Excelling Systems Change Efforts through Legislative Action”. Angela is also a poet. Listen to the end of this podcast to hear her read two of her poems, “Am I Not” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”.

Amy Gonzalez: Hello everyone and welcome to a podcast that we have today featured with self advocate, Angela Green. This podcast is a continuation of the National Community of Practice webinar that we facilitated in January, “Employment First 2.0: Developing a Foundation for Excelling Systems Change Efforts through Legislative Action”. In that webinar, we featured a few grantees that were moving the needle on competitive integrated employment through legislative action. So we heard from a Center for Independent Living in South Carolina by the name of ABLE South Carolina. And through that, we identified a self advocate that was formally in the sheltered workshop. So we are with Angela Green today, and we are just delighted to have her with us. And what we’re going to do today is take a deeper dive into Angela’s journey to competitive, integrated employment. And so what I’m going to do now is start off by welcoming Angela.

Angela, thank you so much for being here with us today. We are so excited to talk to you more about your former life in a sheltered workshop and about your job as a dining room attendant. What I am going to do is just talk you through a series of questions that we have for you at the DETAC. Can you introduce yourself again, please? What is your name?

Angela Greene: Hi, my name is Angela Greene and I’m a self advocate.

Amy Gonzalez: Thank you so much, Angela. Can you please tell us what city and state you are from?

Angela Greene: I am from Richland County, Columbia, South Carolina.

Amy Gonzalez: South Carolina. That is wonderful. Now what we understand based upon your excellent presentation in January, Angela, is that you formally were in a sheltered workshop for 21 years from 1994 until 2015. In the amazing presentation that you gave, you talked a little bit about working in a sheltered workshop Monday through Friday, making about $3 an hour. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you did in the sheltered workshop when you were there?

Angela Greene: Well, when I was in the sheltered workshop, what my jobs were: cleaning offices, I would dust offices, and I would do bathrooms and wipe down tables and take trash out, that sort of thing.

Amy Gonzalez: Now were these tasks something that you like to do or did they just tell you that you needed to do those types of jobs there in the shelter workshop?

Angela Greene: Um, It … it’s a … it was more of not … I didn’t really, wasn’t crazy about my job and jobs I did. No, I, I didn’t fancy them.

Amy Gonzalez: Yeah. I can understand that, you know, when somebody is, isn’t given a choice to choose the type of work they wanna do that it can cause feelings of, you know, not really being excited about the work that you’re doing. What can you tell me about the sheltered workshop? Did you have friends? Was it lonely? Was it a scary place? What, what can you tell me about being there?

Angela Greene: Um, it was not a scary place, but I didn’t really have friends because as you can see, I’m, I’m a very outgoing person, but the kind of relationships, if you will, I had at the workshop, weren’t very friendly. So no, I didn’t have a lot of friends.

Amy Gonzalez: Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but, but I know that you have some exciting things to talk about relative to, to your new job. And, and before we take a deeper dive into the job that you have now, I wanna ask, Angela, did you ever ask or talk to maybe, uh, the staff in the sheltered workshop about getting a job somewhere else in the community? Did you ever let them know that you wanted to try something different?

Angela Greene: Yes, I did.

Amy Gonzalez: And what, what would happen after you told them that? What would they do?

Angela Greene: They got that out. They felt that I didn’t have my, they felt that I wasn’t capable, that I didn’t have the capabilities of, you know, doing more.

Amy Gonzalez: Well, that can definitely be frustrating when people tell you that you are incapable of something when you know that you can do it, right?

Angela Greene: Right.

Amy Gonzalez: I wanna talk a little bit about a pivotal moment in your life that you talked about during your presentation, Angela. You said that in 2015, you went to a new agency. You talked about the new agency believed in you and that they helped you gain employment in the community. They took a chance on you. Can you tell me a little bit more about how your new agency worked to help you get a job and learn more about the things that you like to do?

Angela Greene: So, wait minute, I moved here, but I originated from Manning. And so how I got in the program was through other programs, if you, um, um, a lady named Ms. Christie and Ms. Val. And at that time they had supportive living and that’s how I got connected with Babcock [Center]. And they, um, helped me, um, find employment.

Amy Gonzalez: So you were able, through your supported living program, to learn that there was other, other agencies who could help you and provide services and help you connect to getting a new job. And that’s when you ended up going to the new agency. Is that, is that right?

Angela Greene: Yeah.

Amy Gonzalez: Okay. Got it. Got it. So how long were you with that new agency until you were able to, to get your new job as a dining room attendant?

Angela Greene: It was just like magic. If you – I wasn’t going to use magic – it was just, like once I came here, I moved here in 2015 and I was saying, about a couple of months and how I got connected, how I was able to – was again, was the job coach program through the job coach program. That’s when I gained, um, the competitive employment. And so now I have been working for USC for seven years.

Amy Gonzalez: So you are working at the university in South Carolina for about seven years. That is excellent! Seven years is a really long time. And it shows, Angela, your commitment to your job and to your employer. So let’s talk a little bit about your job. What do you do as a dining room attendant?

Angela Greene: Well, more so, what I do where I take out trash, I do wipe down tables and then I sweep the floors. And sometimes I stack up the utensils if needed. And then I go in the other units, if they stuff need wipe down, I wipe down. Then I stack up their utensils and stuff as well. And then sometime if someone needs somebody down, the other units, I do that, you know.

Amy Gonzalez: Excellent. So it sounds like, yeah, you may do some cleaning here and there, but there are way more aspects of your job, like making sure the utensils are clean, they’re in order, they’re stacked up – because people need those utensils to eat. So that sounds like an important job, Angela. Now, what is your shift? Like what hours do you work?

Angela Greene: I’m more from it’s 11 to 5 and that’s, I kind of go in like more the rush hour. That’s where a lot of the kids are be coming in at lunch time, per se, so, okay. That’s, that’s 11 to – yeah – 11 to 4, and out of four days a week.

Amy Gonzalez: Yeah. Okay. Four days a week. Got it. And is it a same schedule, like the same days every week, or do you change days?

Angela Greene: Same. Monday. And the only day is I have off is Thursday.

Amy Gonzalez: Thursday. And that’s why you’re here with us today on this webinar on a Thursday – because you had a day off. Well, that’s great, Angela. And out of all the work that you do, all the tasks with the utensils and the cleaning and making sure things are in order, what is your favorite task to do?

Angela Greene: Well, my favorite is this seeing the kids satisfied and a job well done. This, giving them, um, you know, encouragement, I would say through the work I do, but some I come across me, some days look, kind of sleepy or down or whatever, and I’ll come by and say, are you doing all right, young man, are you doing right? And they’ll be like, yes, I’m doing fine. So that’s my biggest enjoyment.

Amy Gonzalez: That’s really nice. It’s, it’s that social part: connecting with people, right? Talking to people and having relationships with people, which seems very different, um, than the work that you would do at the sheltered workshop. It seems like here at your job as a dining room attendant, Angela, that you have opportunity to engage with people and talk to people. Um, and just going back to what you said earlier, right, you’re an outgoing person. You love to interact with people and to socialize. Do you know Angela, uh, what your hourly wages, do you know how much money you make on the hour at work?

Angela Greene: Well, there’s minute it’s $7.25 an hour. And I …

Amy Gonzalez: Oh, that’s great.

Angela Greene: Yes. The $7.25. And what I do sometimes I times – I add up my hour and stuff, so back to $7.25 and I work five hours a day. So.

Amy Gonzalez: Excellent. So you, you do some basic math and you have a handle on, um, you know, kind of your money and what you get paid and things of that nature. That’s great. Cuz money matters is very important.

Angela Greene: Yes.

Amy Gonzalez: Regardless, right? If a person has a disability or not, it is important, um, to be abreast and aware of, kind of, a financials, right?

Amy Gonzalez: So Angela, I’m gonna transition over. We talked a little bit about, um, your former life in a sheltered workshop – what you were paid, the environment, how you felt being there. Then we talked about that big change in your life, when you got a new provider in 2015, and you were able to get your new job as a dining room attended at USC. We talked a little bit about your new job, about socializing, about your tasks, But what I’d like to transition over to now is some of your advice. Angela, to this day, currently, there are thousands of people across the country that are still in sheltered workshops. There are people who desperately want to get out of the shop, who are talking to their support staff, like you are, who are trying to use their voice to let them know that they’re ready for a job in the community. But countless individuals are being told that they can’t be in the community, that they are unable to achieve competitive integrative employment. And what I wanna know, Angela, is what tips you have, what tips or advice do you have for people that want to get out of sheltered workshops?

Angela Greene: First …

Amy Gonzalez: What would you tell them?

Angela Greene: First and foremost, love yourself. And be true to you. Nevermind – don’t fall into the traps of people saying what you can’t do. If you have, if you have the passion and the drive and mainly support. I think that’s what it’s come down to. Yes, you can have all that, but you need strong people, good people in there that encourage you. Find you some good, encouraging people. And don’t – if I could use this – don’t try to connect with dream killers, cuz there are – it’s really your dreams, and you are connected with your dreams. It’s your goals. Nobody knows you, but you, and knows what you can, and knows what you cannot do, but just, but you, you know. So that what I would say.

Amy Gonzalez: That is powerful. Angela. I’m reminded of the other advice that you gave during your presentation, which says, you know, follow your dreams, – no matter what other say; tune out the negative and always try to embrace thoughts of inspiration instead of negativity. I, I really appreciate that quote that you just gave: don’t connect with the dream killers, right?

Angela Greene: Right.

Amy Gonzalez: Stay away from those. Go follow the people, and go to provider, and be with, you know, CILs and other grantees that believe in you, and that truly know that you are able to achieve competitive, integrated employment with the proper supports. That is just such powerful advice. Angela. And what do you, what would you tell someone who’s trying learn about what they like to do? What would you tell them? How to learn about new jobs and explore different areas? What would, what advice would you have for a self advocate who’s still learning about themselves and what they like?

Angela Greene: And again, like I said, I would, it was go back to support. In order to, I would say, reach for those goals, you have to have a good team as well, because if you don’t have a good team and trying, you trying to connect you to your dreams, then it won’t work. So that’s what I feel is: you can achieve any dream, as long as you have a good support system, and good people to back you up, and that really believes in you. And once you have that, it’s just like: iron do sharpen iron. And if you don’t have that iron, then it won’t; you know, so that’s when I feel this. There’s a lot of research out there. If you are computer savvy, go on the computers, look at the different websites and see what’s out there. There’s a lot of help out there. It’s just have to know and knowing how to connect with the help, you know. That’s what I believe.

Amy Gonzalez: That’s a great recommendation. So for any self advocates that may be unsure of how to get their journey going to competitive, integrated employment is: find people that believe in you, that are positive, that can give you the support that you need to explore your options and identify the best job path for you. That is just such a great set of recommendations, Angela. Now, before we wrap up, I wanna ask if there’s anything else you wanna tell us. I know, Angela, I understand that you have a great passion for poetry. And so I’m opening up the opportunity to see if you would like to share some poetry with us today on our podcast.

Angela Greene: Yes, I would.

Amy Gonzalez: Let’s hear it!

Angela Greene: I have two and I hope it’s – I’m not trying to be long here. There we go. This one is called “Am I not?”

Angela Greene: Okay.

Angela Greene:

Am I not great?
Even if I don’t wear a Cape?
Am I not smart?
Even if I didn’t go to Harvard?
Am I not lovable?
When I don’t get any?
Am I not helpful?
Even when no one helps me?
Am I not encouraging?
When I have to encourage myself?
Am I not thankful?
When the word doesn’t seem to be?
Am I not?

Amy Gonzalez: “Am I not?” How amazing.

Angela Greene: And this one is called, everybody wants to rule the world.

Angela Greene:

Everybody wants to rule the world, but no one wants to help it.
What am I saying?
If you ask millions of people, why are they not happy
Nine out of 10 would say job.
You may ask them why.
Then they would say, because I’m not the boss.
Next, I don’t have a house like my neighbor.
Why would you a house like theirs?
You don’t know what they had to pay for it.
Here’s another one.
My child is only a C student.
I wish they could be a student like others.
That may be so now,
But remember that C student could become
The coolest, smartest actor, best selling author and motivational speaker there is.
On the other hand that A student you wish you could have been
Started using drugs, disrespecting coworkers and lost that big, fine house in that fancy neighborhood you wish you lived in.
Are you ready to help the world?

Amy Gonzalez: Wow, amazing, Angela! Bravo! This is such awesome work! You can tell that you just put all your heart into these poems that you’re creating. And so thank you so much for are taking the time, uh, to share some of your poetry with us today. Angela, before we wrap up our podcast is there anything else that you want to tell us about your life, about your job, about the wonderful life that you live as an independent woman in South Carolina?

Angela Greene: No. I think everything is well and I, I think I’ll kind of ended on that note.

Amy Gonzalez: That sounds great. Well, on behalf of the Disability Employment, technical assistance center, we would like to thank you so much, Angela, for participating in a podcast through the January community of practice webinar employment. First 2.0, developing a foundation for excelling systems change efforts through legislative action. We appreciate the opportunity to engage with you and we look forward to keeping in touch with you and your wonderful work and your job, uh, at USC. So thank you again, Angela. Great to have you today.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to the AoD Disability Employment Technical Assistance Center podcast. Today we spoke with Angela Greene, founding member and secretary of Impact South Carolina. To learn more about Impact South Carolina, visit impactinsc.com. For Angela’s presentation during the DETAC webinar, “Employment First 2.0: Developing a Foundation for Excelling Systems Change Efforts through Legislative Action”, visit aoddisabilityemploymenttacenter.com and click on the “Events” menu.

The AoD Disability Employment Technical Assistance Center (or DETAC) is a project of the Lewin Group and TASH, created by a grant from the Administration for Community Living, to provide evidence-based training and technical assistance to Administration on Disabilities grantees aimed at improving competitive, integrated employment and economic outcomes for individuals with disabilities across the nation.

Music for the DETAC podcast is an original composition and performance by Sunny Cefaratti, the Co-Director and Autistic Self Advocacy Mentor at the Musical Autist. You can learn more about the Musical Autist at www.themusicalautist.org.

To learn more about DETAC, visit aoddisabilityemploymenttacenter.com. For news and alerts about upcoming webinars and podcasts, you can sign up to receive our newsletter or follow us on Facebook and twitter.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

About the Guest

A portrait of Angela Greene. She is a black woman smiling with a colorful swoop of bangs. She is wearing a red cardigan standing in front of a clump of green hedges.
Angela Greene

Angela Greene is from Columbia, SC and is a gifted poet, writer, leader, and advocate. Angela is a founding member and current secretary of IMPACT SC, a self-advocacy council led by USC’s Center for Disability Resources and funded by the SC Developmental Disabilities Council. Angela is a graduate from the Partners in Policymaking Training Program and has traveled to other states to participate in numerous Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) conferences. Angela currently works as a Dining Room Attendant for the University of South Carolina and has worked for Able South Carolina as an Administrative Assistant during the summer. Angela is an active member in her church. Angela is currently working towards receiving her GED and has many career goals. She has an interest in social work, art, and public relations.

About the Host

A portrait of Amy Gonzales. She has parted, long black hair and is wearing a dark blazer against a neutral beige background.
Amy Gonzalez

Amy M. Gonzalez, M.S. is the Project Manager for the Disability Employment TA Center (DETAC), funded by the Administration on Disabilities. In this role, she manages the various components of the DETAC, including training and technical assistance to grantees who are Centers for Independent Living, Councils on Developmental Disabilities, Protection & Advocacy Entities, University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, Education & Research, Traumatic Brain Injury Programs and Projects of National Significance. Prior to her role at DETAC, Amy was a Senior Policy Advisor on the Workforce Systems Policy Team at the U.S. DOL, Office of Disability Employment Policy. She formerly served as the State Director of Employment & Day Services for the Tennessee Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities. Amy started her career in direct service and has a broad range of experience in serving individuals with disabilities through the following systems: Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, Workforce Development, Medicaid, including employer outreach and engagement. She also strives to elevate important systems issues that continue to be overlooked such as marginalized and underserved communities.

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