Commercial Support Services looks to partner with downtown


Former downtown business owner Marty Ochoa (second from left) meets with CSS workers Leslie Gilmore, Ruben Estrada and Robbie Hartmann at the production facility in Concord. (HOLLY McCLELLAN / Martinez News-Gazette)

A local organization is hoping to create a win-win situation for local businesses and adults with developmental disabilities by providing work opportunities in the downtown area.

Commercial Support Services, or CSS, is just one of the many services offered by Contra Costa ARC, a nonprofit community benefit organization that helps over 1,000 children and adults each day.

CSS provides job opportunities and work training for adults with developmental disabilities. Their three production facilities in Contra Costa County provide mailing, packaging and assembly services to outside contractors. These customers include the City of Martinez (and six other cities in the county), as well as many schools, colleges, non-profit agencies and local businesses.

CSS also has a supported employment program where teams of three to six workers, accompanied by a job coach, work full-time for local businesses such as Wells Fargo, Wal-Mart and Safeway. CSS is hoping to soon add downtown businesses to their ever-growing list.

Longtime Martinez resident and former downtown business owner Marty Ochoa first came in contact with the work of CSS when he was working for Contra Costa County. During the last several years of Ochoa’s 26-year tenure with the county, CSS work teams would come out to wash county vehicles that otherwise might not get attention.

“It’s a great program,” Ochoa said. “It’s an asset to the county, and it benefits the team.”

Now retired, Ochoa had the idea to start up a foundation that would benefit Contra Costa ARC and CSS. He met with Michele Ternes, director of resource development, and together they toured CSS’s Concord production facility. Seeing many of the people he knew from the County Car Wash, Ochoa had an epiphany.

“He said, ‘I think we need to change the direction we’re going with this, because I’d rather help them find jobs,’” Ternes said. “He recognized the importance of people working.”

So Ternes and Ochoa joined forces with volunteer Mary Peinado, former CEO of the Martinez Chamber of Commerce. Together, the three brainstormed an idea for downtown Martinez.

“There are teams working for the county, with crews coming in and offering superior service,” Peinado said. “The quality of the work is very high. That’s how we got talking about these crews coming downtown.”

The three came up with a unique business model that would suit smaller downtown businesses. Ternes said that work crews could walk from business to business in one or two hour shifts in order to make up their 25-30 hour work week.

“Small businesses may not be able to afford to pay someone full time, but with this model they can get someone in for an hour and they can get a lot done,” Peinado said.

Ternes said that CSS has never undertaken a downtown area like this before, but she thinks it’ll be a good fit for all involved.

“I like the hometown feel,” Ternes said of downtown. “I like that Martinez residents are really about giving back to the community. I see all the activities that are going on, and it really seems that the merchants are about giving back and doing good. But I want to emphasize that it’s not just about giving back. They recognize that they can get good solid work done for their business.”

Ternes said she likes to lead with the fact that CSS is a good business decision, beneficial for all involved.

To that end, Ternes, Ochoa and Peinado have already begun canvassing the downtown area to drum up interest with local businesses. They said they’ve received positive feedback from some business owners, and though the plan is still in its infancy, they’re hoping to piece together several downtown businesses that together make up a full work schedule for the CSS teams.

“There’s nothing like that downtown yet, and Martinez has a lot of areas that could use assistance,” Ochoa said. “It would be a win-win situation for CSS and Martinez in general.”

One interested Martizian is John Stevens, current CEO of the Martinez Chamber of Commerce, who has met with Ternes and Peinado and thinks CSS has a lot of offer the city’s businesses.

“When I was at a non-profit 10 years ago we used their services, and they were very dependable. They did the job well,” Stevens said. “I think it could work very well for not just downtown, but businesses across Martinez, because they serve the county. And I think whether you’re downtown or Virginia Hills or along the Four Corners – those are options for them.”

Stevens said he’s now considering a project by the Chamber that would work well with CSS, and will be talking to Ternes about it soon.

Ternes said that though the focus of the current project is on downtown businesses, she’d like to see businesses throughout Martinez use CSS either for supported employment or their production centers. She encourages interested business owners to come tour one of their facilities, which are located in Antioch, Concord and Richmond.

“We’ve been around since 1965, and too many people still don’t know about us,” Ternes said. “And so I think the more people we can bring on tour and talk about what a great work force the population is and how they can help their businesses, the better for everybody.”

CSS’s Concord facility currently employs 85 people, many of whom work full time. With painstaking care and attention to detail, production center workers assemble packages and mailings that are up to par with their customers’ high quality standards.

Program Coordinator Ann Shackelford said many of the people working at CSS have been with the organization for 20 to 30 years, either in the production facilities or in supported employment.

“Many of these folks have a goal to work in the community,” Shackelford said, though the production facility is currently their primary assignment. “One reason Michele (Ternes) is doing what she does is to develop more opportunities out there so people can get out there and work.”

“Without this place to come and work and get to know people and learn new job skills, they’d be sitting at home or out without anything productive to do,” Shackelford said. “From my perspective, my focus is these folks. They are so driven to be productive and get a paycheck. They might not even understand what the numbers on them mean, but they know they get that because they’ve been productive and active in their community.”

Ternes noted that in addition to work experience and job training, CSS provides program participants with the vital opportunity to socialize with their peers. She said one of the things that keeps people coming back to CSS is the friends they’ve made while working there.

Ternes said that though CSS has compiled an impressive list of production center customers and supported employment employers, they are always looking for more.

“I like the list because it will show businesses that we’re credible and that other cities and municipalities trust us, and that’s really important,” Ternes said. “But I don’t want people to get the impression from that list that we don’t need more work, because we really do. That’s our biggest challenge – to attract businesses to use our services both here in the production centers and with our assisted work program.”

Shackelford said there are at least a dozen people at CSS’s Concord facility who are ready and able to work in the community through supported employment, and Peinado said that maybe those are the dozen that Martinez needs.

“It really does have to be recognized that this is a good business decision,” Ternes said. “[The businesses] get their work done, but they’re giving back at the same time.”

“The end result could be limitless,” Ochoa said. “They go out, they get the education. It’s a good job, and it’s a good turn for everybody.”

For more information on CSS and the other services offered by Contra Costa ARC, visit Int­erested business owners are encouraged to contact Michele Ternes with Contra Costa ARC.

This article originally appeared in the Martinez News-Gazzette by Holly McClellan. Holly McClellan is the circulation clerk at the Gazette, and is currently living in Martinez. She’s a recent graduate of Cedarville University, where she studied Convergent Journalism. She looks forward to being able to cover stories for the Gazette, particularly local news and the arts.

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