HELENA — As Montana enters the second week of the State’s phased reopening plan, many businesses are seeing a much needed influx of money, and employees are returning to their old jobs.
However, for people most vulnerable to COVID-19, it will still be weeks or even months before they can go back to work.
The staff of West Mont Flower & Trading Co. are working hard to ensure every employee has the opportunity to return to their old job.
“As far as business goes it’s been a bit of a challenge,” said Robin Farrell, West Mont Flower & Trading Co. program director.
For more than a month, Farrell was pretty much the only employee in the building fulfilling orders. Full time staff are back at the flower shop now, but it will still be a while before client staff can return.
“We haven’t had clients for two months, so that’s been a little bit difficult,” said Farrell. “We really miss them, they’re a major part of our program.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, West Mont provided vocational employment opportunities for more than 70 individuals with emotional or developmental disabilities.
However, many of those clients live in an assisted living setting, or have an underlying health condition which can make them more vulnerable to coronavirus.
For the client staff at West Mont, the job provides much more than just a paycheck. It’s meaningful work that gives a sense of accomplishment, and improves their confidence.
“There is a dignity in it and there’s an excitement that comes with getting up and going to work and making a difference in the community,” said West Mont President Ashleigh Heimbach. “Because our mission is focused client-based, we try to not get wrapped up in the numbers and focus and focus more on giving them the best life that we can.”
Even though it’s not the goal, the vocational programs like flower shop, ice business and shredding operation bring in significant revenue that help fund other programs.
Heimbach says around 25 percent of West Mont’s funding comes from the work of the vocational programs, and COVID-19 has had a significant impact on those revenue sources.
“We have lost a lot of weddings this summer,” explained Farrell. “Brides have canceled, it’s unknown what’s going to happen here in June, July and August...Many have said they’re like to use us in the future, but don’t know when that will be.”
There’s no way around it, this next year is going to be difficult for a lot of businesses.
International shipping has disrupted many of the flower shop’s suppliers.
West Mont has found ways to move forward though. Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and the flower shop is delivering and has arrangements ready in their shop.
They’re also offering discounted flowers for anyone ordering bouquets for hospital workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
It’s not going to be easy, but Farrell says it will be a great day when his client staff are finally back in the building.
“We’ve been calling and checking on all of them, just to say hi and see how they’re doing,” said Farrell. “Like I said, we really miss them.”