Firm's disabled workers pick up litter for Tyler

Published on Sunday, 9 March 2014 23:04 - Written by KELLY GOOCH kgooch@tylerpaper.com

Brenda Oldham and Mike Sherow take pride in picking up trash.

For the 52-year-old Tyler residents, both of whom are mentally disabled, it is their job to dispense of litter, and Feb. 25 marked another day of work.

With safety vests on and trash bags in hand, the two set out along Whiteside Road, between South Southwest Loop 323 and Texas Highway 31. Ms. Oldham took one side of the road, while Sherow took the other.

Ms. Oldham said she likes being outside, and feels good about her work because it “keeps the road looking nice.”

Sherow has picked up litter for more than 20 years and rides his bicycle to and from work.

He said he enjoys his job, likes his supervisors and co-workers and feels happy about what he accomplishes. 

Ms. Oldham and Sherow are among the workers who pick up trash for American Diversified Industries, which recently renewed its contract with the city of Tyler for litter control.

Al Matson, division director for ADI, said the nonprofit has had a contract with the city since the early 1990s, and also has contracts with the Texas Department of Transportation for litter and mowing.

Since the early 1990s, more than 200 disabled individuals have been employed with ADI to pick up litter, which results in “a lot of lives impacted,” Matson said. He said that number covers all ADI litter operations, including the city of Tyler.

Currently, 20 to 25 people routinely pick up litter through ADI’s litter operations.

Matson said the workers try to work four to six hours per day and are paid at least minimum wage.

Marsha Dodson, a contract supervisor with Andrews Diversified Industries, said she and other contract supervisors routinely go out with work crews, who pick up trash on city streets and state roadways. That includes various areas of Loop 323, Old Omen Road, Erwin Street, Gentry Parkway and Glenwood Boulevard. Workers also pick up trash along Interstate 20 and at East Texas landfills.

Matson said crews average a mile per hour while they are working. 

Ms. Dodson said that if someone misses an item along the way, she points it out, and workers are supposed to let her know if they see a gun or sharp object.

They can keep money if they find it on the ground, but if there is a wallet or purse, they try to locate the owner, she said.

She said workers must pick up glass bottles but are told to leave broken glass.

And once the heat index reaches 100 degrees, she tries to have her crew in for the day by 2 p.m., and workers carry containers of ice water, she said.

Matson said Andrews Diversified Industries tries to work around whatever issue a worker might have and focus on their strengths.

For instance, Ms. Oldham has asthma, and she is able to sit in the truck for a short time if she needs to use an inhaler, Ms. Dodson said.

Through it all, she said she has to have a positive attitude and encourage workers. She said she speaks to the whole crew when a mistake is made rather than singling out an individual.

Matson said the litter pick-up business for Andrews Diversified Industries has been steady, and workers have benefited.

He said Sherow spent early years at a state supported living center, but has lived in his own apartment now for years. 

“This not only benefits the community. ... But it helps sustain the independence of the workers,” Matson said.