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Shedd Aquarium Staffers Celebrate Anniversaries With Help from Envision

 Anita Womack and Tarita Baugh, who have both been employed by the Shedd Aquarium for more than 20 years.
Anita Womack and Tarita Baugh, who have both been employed by the Shedd Aquarium for more than 20 years.
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Lisa Nordeen

MUSEUM CAMPUS — Not many people can say they love everything about their job — and the food-service industry especially has a bad reputation for employee satisfaction.

But Anita Womack and Tarita Baugh, who both proudly wear lapel pins celebrating 20 years of employment, can't come up with a single complaint about their jobs in the Shedd Aquarium's cafeteria.

"I like it," said Womack. "I like to do tables, I like to do silverware, I like to carry the trays. ... Most of all I like talking to people. I get to help little kids."

Womack and Baugh were both hired by the aquarium in the early 1990s through Shedd's partnership with Envision Unlimited, which provides job placement services for adults with developmental disabilities.

Both women were trained in food service by the locally-based nonprofit before Envision's team set to work finding them jobs they would like.

Once they were placed at the Shedd, job coach Lisa Nordeen took over, getting their skills up to speed, checking on their feelings about the job and their supervisor's reviews, and connecting them with opportunities to expand their skills and take on more responsibilities.

"These jobs mean a lot to our clients," Nordeen said. "They are proud to be members of the working community, and it gives them independence and confidence. They also are some of the hardest working employees you will ever find."

Next year, Envision will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Founded in 1964 as the Chicago Association for Retarded Children, the program has been redesigned and rebranded as the city's public education services grew.

"In the special ed schools, you're able to stay there until your 21st birthday, so most of our clients are about that age," she said. "But they could be 18 to 21, depending on where they're going. Our minimum age is 16 years old, but it's very rare that we get anyone that young. Mostly all of them have graduated from special ed or mainstreaming programs within regular schools."

Envision reaches out to companies and agencies once clients have chosen an industry they like and received some training. Nordeen says they often do repeat placements at sites they work with frequently, like the Shedd, hospitals, college campuses and grocery stores, but for certain clients they reach out to new companies. Sometimes, the jobs come to them.

Participating employers get "tax credits, and government programs allow businesses to collect incentives, and get reimbursed for wages that they pay to individuals who work in programs like ours," she said.

For clients there are financial incentives too, but Baugh says getting paid isn't her favorite part of her job.

"I like talking to the guests when they come in," she said. "Sometimes my niece visits [the aquarium], and I get to hook her up. ... We get the Park District kids, I like to help them. I just like it, just like it all."

But Baugh says the paycheck is a nice perk, too.

"I like to go to the beauty shop, and I like to go shopping," she said, "I couldn't do that without a job."