Photo by Orville HectorDoug Selby, 42, assembles chucks along with his caregiver Doris Zambrano, right, on March 5. The chucks will become part of a drill bit sharpener at Pro Tool.

When Mailee Nichols applied for a job with Ashland's Professional Tool Mfg. years ago, she met the "power crew," a group of developmentally disabled workers who greeted her with smiles and enthusiasm.

"I actually choked up when I met them. And I knew right then and there, that I wanted a job with this company," said Nichols, now a production manager with Pro Tool.

Most of the "power crew" workers are clients with Living Opportunities, a non-profit organization in Medford that provides residential, employment, recreation and supported living services to about 190 individuals with developmental disabilities in Jackson County.

Doug Selby, 42, a "power crew" member, has worked at Pro Tool for about four years.

Every day the group works, members build 800 to 1,000 "chucks," which is the component that holds a drill bit in place.

Selby describes his job as a "chuck builder" as "cool," adding that he really likes working there. When asked if he lives in Ashland or Medford, Selby, a huge sports fan, answers, "Go grizzlies!"

"These people are priceless. It just puts a smile on your face seeing how much they enjoy their jobs," said Nichols. "It's fulfillment to them &

not just a paycheck. It's social integration, a sense of belonging. And their enthusiasm rubs off on the rest of the employees here."

Jim Gochenour, development director for Living Opportunities, said nearly 10 Ashland businesses employ 35 to 40 of their clients; but he's always on the lookout for more business partnerships.

Living Opportunities recently held a luncheon at the Ashland Springs Hotel to educate business owners about their programs.

Don Anway, general manager at Ashland Springs Hotel, told the gathering that the hotel currently employees one Living Opportunity client and is in the process of hiring another.

He said the employees enjoy the jobs they give them, such as folding napkins, vacuuming and helping prepare for large weekend events.

"It's incredible how much they help us get things done," said Anway.

Roger Hassenpflug, CEO at Living Opportunities, said his clients can do a variety of jobs that free up other employees for more difficult tasks.

He said his clients can stuff envelopes, gather and staple informational material, work on recycling, janitorial and grounds crews and take on tasks at production plants, such as the "power crew."

Living Opportunities works with employers to develop jobs for individuals and small groups and helps with training, he said, adding that it was also very important that his clients work with the general population of a business.

"If a job looks like they are just going to stick our people in a back room to work somewhere, I'll turn the job down," Hassenpflug said. "That social interaction between the two groups is crucial."

Gochenour said the developmentally disabled are no different from they rest of us.

"They want to be liked. They want to feel wanted. They want to develop relationships and feel fulfilled," he said. "Working at these jobs gives them that sense of belonging."

More than 150 people are on the Living Opportunities waiting list.

Darlene Chapman with Brammo Motorsports in Ashland attended the luncheon to learn more about Living Opportunities. At the end of the presentation, she said Brammo is definitely looking into the possibility of partnering with Living Opportunities.

Reach reporter at 482-3456 x226.