By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
With no family to turn to, Price says he has no choice but to continue reporting to his job stuffing envelopes so he can keep his apartment in the Wales.
"I'm a reasonably intelligent person," Price says. "I think I could have a decent life if I got a shot at it."
Beyond the question of whether Trinity's policies truly serve the best interests of its clients, there are serious questions concerning their legality, particularly with regard to the occupational therapy program.
At the Observer's request, Schaefer agreed to give a tour of her new office building, including a trip through OTC. For this leg of the tour, Schaefer has enlisted the help of Gregg Davenport, the OTC supervisor, and Sally Schultz, a paid consultant Schaefer hired to help her design the OTC program.The first thing a visitor at OTC notices is the time clock stationed just inside the front door. Beyond it, the room opens up into a warehouse-like setting filled with rows of tables. About a dozen men and women sit quietly at the tables, their heads down and eyes focused on the menial tasks before them.
"It's designed to simulate real work," Schaefer says. "They punch in in the morning. The whole deal."
Schaefer explains that the goal of OTC is to teach Trinity's clients basic job skills, primarily learning how to show up for work on time and follow orders. Because so many Trinity clients are mentally or physically disabled, Schaefer says, the task is not easy.
"Those sound almost so simplistic that they may not have any value, but as an employer, I can tell you those things matter," Schaefer says. "And if you can't do those things, you're not gonna work for me, and you're probably not going to work for anybody. Especially if you have marginal skills to begin with."
Schultz, who says she helped create similar "sheltered workshops" for Texas state hospitals in Vernon and Wichita Falls, says this program is the best one she's ever seen.
"Every person in here is working within their range of expectations," Schultz says, adding, "this is not a quick fix. This is a truly rehabilitative program."
Here in OTC, Davenport says, the clients are divided up into three progressively difficult categories of work, according to their skill level. He points to a woman who is applying address labels to brochures Trinity is mailing out under a contract it has with the Dallas Burn professional soccer team. That task, Davenport says, falls into the "level one" category, the easiest skill level. Next to her, a woman is stamping the labeled brochures with a prepaid postage stamp. Her task is considered a "level two." At another set of tables, a team of men measure strings, which they apply to plastic bags as part of a "bag pack assembly" job Trinity completes for a local company, which Davenport declines to identify. This work is considered a "level three."
Schaefer leads the tour toward the back of the room, where a pair of employees are completing orders for Michaels Arts & Crafts--the retail giant based in Irving that, as Schaefer points out, has more than 300 stores across the United States and Canada. The orders are completed as part of a contract that Trinity Works has had with Michaels for the past two years, Schaefer says.
The way it works, Davenport explains, is a customer goes into any Michaels store and orders a decorative print. Michaels then sends the order here, where OTC clients mount the prints onto a desired background.
"Orders come here from around the country," Davenport says. "We fill the order here and ship it out to that store."
A collection of large cylinder tubes is standing on end in a corner. Schaefer explains that they contain finished prints, which are ready to be picked up by UPS and shipped out to various Michaels stores.
Typically, Schaefer says, Trinity Works has three contracts going with various companies at any given time. The task of convincing these companies to give their business to Trinity is something Schaefer takes very seriously. In its promotional literature, Trinity Works advertises this program as "fast assembly at a fair price." It also states that the nonprofit program offers Trinity's clients "real jobs for real pay."
"We're competing for these contracts with people who are doing that for a profit," Schaefer says. "We believe it is one of our successes."
For Trinity Works, the effort pays off. In 1999, the companies that contract with Trinity paid the agency a total of $120,030, according to the agency's public financial statement, otherwise known as an IRS 990 form.
While the OTC program generates revenues for Trinity Works, Schaefer confirms that she does not pay the clients who perform the work a wage. Schaefer justifies the policies by saying the labor her clients perform is not "work" but "occupational therapy." She also contends that they are "paid" in the form of the services Trinity offers, as well as a $35 cash stipend every week, which Schaefer says is drawn out of Trinity Works' own revenues.
"If you look it up in the dictionary, the term 'stipend' is a term used with education," Schaefer says, adding that absence of wages "is just not an issue." Schultz, who points out that the clients receive medical care, counseling, food and shelter, adds, "The benefit the client gets far exceeds any minimum compensation."