Committed to "enhancing the lives of individuals with disabilities," RCS Empowers helped Package Delivery Clerk Rodney Rentmeester begin his career at Sargento.
Community Outreach Spotlight: Delivering Hope
We are all more alike than we sometimes realize. And the differences we do have, make our lives better. Package Delivery Clerk Rodney Rentmeester stands 6 feet 8 inches tall and can be seen zipping around the halls of Sargento with his mail cart. He joined the Sargento Family 10 years ago thanks to the support of our Community Outreach partner RCS Empowers.
“It was hard finding a job when you’ve got problems. Nobody wanted to be one of my problems.” Rodney said.
“They’re not problems, Rodney,” Officer Manager Maria Herrera quickly chimed in, making Rodney smile and continue his thought.
“Everyone here is nice, and I like working with Connie (Rashid). She’s nice. It’s a lot different than when I grew up working on the farm. There’s no pigs and ducks and my clothes don’t get dirty, but I do work up a sweat,” he said.
Rodney is neurodivergent and turned to RCS Empowers to enhance his independent living skills. The non-profit has been in Sheboygan since 1955 thanks to our support as well as other employers and private donors.
“We strive to be the destination in our community for any type of disability. We work with individuals from birth to end-of-life,” said Martha VandeLeest, President & CEO of RCS Empowers. “Our mission is to work with all individuals, with dignity and respect so, that they can integrate into the community and feel free. We also work to educate the community that we're all just people.”
RCS Empowers serves around 150 people every day with developmental programming, workforce training, art, music and even paid manufacturing positions on-site for some large employers in the county.
“A typical day is a lot of different programs. Some individuals come in very early in the morning, and they might go right into the production plant and punch in their time clock in,” said VandeLeest. (near right) “Others may go to our day services program which could be a STEM class or a cooking class. There’s also social time and now that weather's nice, we have a park and a garden.”
“If you are a person that has a diagnosed disability, and you have some way to pay for services, you can come here,” said Lynn Justinger, Director of Human Services & Program Development. (center right) “We have a plethora of other services where individuals don't actually ever even come here. For example, our birth-to-three early intervention program is for children who are showing delays in development. We have a team of service coordinators and therapists that will go into peoples’ homes and provide service coordination and therapy.”
The pandemic took a real toll on RCS, its clients and its programming.
“Right now, we’re at about 73% of where we were before COVID. It was very sad. We lost some individuals who could never come back because they had gone backwards so quickly,” said VandeLeest.
Volunteers are needed to help with programming. If you have a special talent or like to do crafts, RCS may be the place for you. RCS partners with the United Way Volunteer Center. Please consider donating to their efforts during the Living Your Giving campaign later this year. A decade ago, Rodney was part of the job placement program where he worked with an RCS coach who came to Sargento and shadowed him until he was able to do the job on his own.
“Honestly, there were some reservations because I wasn’t familiar with RCS and I didn't have a lot of experience with people of varying abilities either,” said Financial Analyst Stacey Hand who was Rodney’s supervisor at the time. “Having RCS here at Sargento, really helped me see how we can find a way versus just shunning the idea and saying it’s not going to work. Having that open mindset and also understanding what RCS offers made me feel a lot better. And with the support of HR, Karen (Lepisto) and my manager we all wanted Rodney to succeed instead of just turning our backs,” said Stacey.
Rodney delivers scores of packages to different employees every day. He also makes daily runs to Elkhart Lake, delivering and collecting the mail. He had to learn how to use computers in the beginning for labels and drafting email.
“Back then I had to use a map on sheets of paper to tell me where to go. I don’t look at the maps anymore,” said Rodney, “I worked a lot more hours on the dairy farm growing up. Here, I work about 4 hours a day and I had to get all new clothes!” he smiled.
“Rodney is reliable, and he always comes in, even if the weather is bad,” said his colleague, Connie Rashid. “He asks for help when he needs it and I give him the steps to follow, then he gets the job done. It’s nice having him be able to back me up – to have that support,” she said.
RCS Empowers no longer serves Rodney because he, like countless others, no longer needs its support as he has transitioned to independent living.
“We call that a success!” said VandeLeest. “Last year, there were 14 individuals that we completely closed out of programming out of the well over 150 that we serve. They are now doing their jobs without any paid support. And it’s because of the amazing employers in our county.”
One client at RCS proudly stated that she works at Culver’s in Plymouth. Another was happy to show off the computer game she just learned. A team of clients watered the many houseplants in the building, taking the task to heart. As for Rodney, he loves his role at Sargento.
“A lot of people say, ‘Hi’ to me. I like that. I’m kind of tall. Most people shrink when they get older, but I’m still growing!” he laughed.
“Even though I’ve only worked closely with Rodney for a couple of years, I feel very enriched by knowing him and seeing others having him as a colleague,” said Maria Herrera, his current manager. “Don't be afraid of people who may look or act differently than you or speak differently than you. Opening the door just a bit to get to know someone that you might not normally get to know can be so fruitful and positive and is just enriching to your life and your work experience.”