Jeremiah Wright learned a valuable lesson while shadowing County Commissioner Tan Smiley for a day.

Jeremiah Wright learned a valuable lesson while shadowing County Commissioner Tan Smiley for a day.

Wright spent time with Smiley at the county courthouse and the Gulf County Jail and learned something straightforward from Smiley about the jail.

“Don’t go in there,” Wright said, a smile creasing his face.

Wright and Smiley were among roughly a dozen teams who participated last week in Disability Mentoring Day, a statewide initiative held in conjunction with Florida Disability Employment Awareness Month.

The mentoring day is a chance to demonstrate two things: for the developmentally disabled the atmosphere of the workplace and for small business owners and elected officials the opportunity to see that the developmentally disabled aren’t really all that disabled when it comes to performing workplace tasks.

“That is the aim, to show them what a real job is about, what their dream is about,” said Dianna Harrison, director of Gulf County ARC. “And more important to me is that we want to make it clear that even if a person is developmentally disabled they can do the job.

“They might need a little more time or a few more tools than the next person, but they can do any job.”

This was the third year that Gulf County ARC had participated in the statewide Disability Mentoring Day.

“It has grown every year,” Harrison said. “The response has been terrific. We ask businesses that fit a hobby or something similar that (the people served by ARC) have or are interested in. They get to go out and work and be part of it.

“It is encouraging to see the people who are willing to mentor.”

Folks served by Gulf County ARC were teamed with mentors in a variety of jobs – banking, landscaping, printing, auto mechanic, restaurant and maintenance among others.

“I did the locker room and did the air conditioner,” said a beaming Tyler Thompson of his work at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

Linda LaPlant worked for the second-straight year at Sharon’s Restaurant in Mexico Beach. Sharon said her customers and staff look forward to Linda’s visit.

“Everyone there looks so forward to her being there,” she said. “The atmosphere is great when she is there.”

For her part, Linda could not stop smiling as he proudly held up the certificate of completion each participant received.

The feeling was mutual for mentors.

Stacey Price said she had a “blast” with her mentee who learned, most importantly Gizelle Ware would explain, to count money and had held a sizeable sum in her hands.

Smiley talked of the good vibes from Wright during their day together.

“He really gave us a good time at the jailhouse,” Smiley said.

And Harrison noted that in the first year of his participation, Smiley shone as a mentor.

“Jeremiah might have learned more than any one,” Harrison said. “Commissioner Smiley walked him through the entire courthouse and explained what happened. He really took his time and made the day special. Jeremiah was so proud.”

Hal Keels of Coastal Landscape and Design said this year’s event was a repeat he hoped to replay in the future.

“This was the second year I’ve done this and I look forward to many more years,” Keels said.