In a sense, Shawn Riley is a one-person operation at the part-time job he holds with Electronics Recycling Solutions in Cool Springs.
Dave Krikac, Riley’s boss and one of his mentors, is doing all he can to change that. He’s proud of what the 20-year-old Brentwood resident has accomplished as a special needs young adult, and he wants to see plenty more young adults with similar disabilities succeed as well.
“We wanted to really launch in a special needs market because they are so underserved,” Krikac said. “Before the pandemic, [the special needs workforce] was at an 81% unemployment rate. So I started looking into what we could do about that, and found this is the perfect opportunity.”
That opportunity is Electronics Recycling Solutions, a subsidiary of Health Connect America that offers recycling services for all manner of electronics for individuals, companies or organizations. Franklin-based Health Connect America provides mental and behavioral health services to children, families and adults at 56 locations across five states impacting the lives of nearly 10,000 people daily.
Krikac was hired in September to lead the Adult Services Division as its regional vice president. Together with Rebeckah Dopp, founder and vice president of development for ERS, the team will replicate the growth strategy in the other Health Connect America markets in Tennessee and eventually throughout the Southeast.
‘It’s really about right job, right kid’
While the original ERS location in Gallatin employs several young adults, Riley is the first employee at the Franklin site and currently works just a couple of days a week. His job is to greet and check-in customers as they bring electronics to the drop-off location, and then to disassemble the items and strip the hard drive in the case of computers.
He’s in his element, he said, and hopes to start working more days and hours.
“It was hard for me to find jobs anywhere else, and I’m very glad that I was able to get a job here,” Riley said. “I love working with my hands.”
Krikac said similar opportunities could open soon for additional employees, and Health Connect America is the ideal for place for that to happen.
“HCA has that entrepreneurial spirit and that’s why I really enjoyed jumping on board,” he said. “They look at it [hiring special needs employees] as the right thing to do. It’s teaching them and finding them the right job and working with them to be successful at that job. Then you get them to become independent. It’s really about right job, right kid.”
Seeking a wealth of computer donations
Matching handicapped young adults with the appropriate job — and training them to develop certain skillsets to handle particular jobs — is something Krikac has been doing for years. He owned and operated Our Thrift Store in Franklin for 15 years before its lease ran out this summer. The store, which employed 25 special needs adults as well as the same number of job coaches, was part of the GEAR (gainful employment and respect) Foundation Krikac founded with his wife, Sandy.
They were moved to start the nonprofit soon after their daughter, Sara, who is autistic, struggled to find a job after high school. Krikac recognized the importance of helping young adults with special needs discover and nourish their talents for sustainable employment. That was the mission of Our Thrift Store, and it’s still the basis for the GEAR Foundation.
As the Krikacs continue to look for other jobs for the Our Thrift Store employees (they have found work for six of them) through their foundation, Dave is staying busy finding employees to work alongside Riley at Electronics Recycling Services.
That will be more feasible in a couple of ways. For one, there will be more space at the ERS location as an electricians trade school with a workshop in the back of the building prepares to move to a new location in Nashville.
An even bigger difference, however, would be if Krikac could land a large corporation or organization to necessitate the hiring of more employees at ERS.
“This is the easiest way to get people working, because everybody has computers,” Kirkac said. “All I need are one or two companies committing — like Nissan or Dave Ramsey or Tractor Supply — and we would have a facility full of electronics. We would be able to do the disassembly and down-streaming of that, and that would be gigantic.”
ERS did just recently land a partnership with the city of Franklin, which has a drop-off on Century Court for computers and other electronics as well as hazardous waste materials.
“I think the huge focus is just about getting stuff,” Krikac said. “Like it was at the thrift store, everybody in the world has extra stuff. Our tagline was stuff equals jobs. Well, this is computers or electronics equal jobs.”
Corporate organizations looking for safe computer disposition services can reach out to ERS and request a pick-up by calling (615)567-6726, extension 6747.