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Santa Rosa nonprofit Becoming Independent wins county contract for paper shredding

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For Derek West, 28, of Santa Rosa, shredding paper is all about speed.

His job as a sorter for Becoming Independent’s document shredding service requires him to spend hours every day sifting through troves of documents for any non-recyclable items accidentally mixed in. West, who is autistic, takes pride sorting through as much paper as he can without sacrificing the quality of his work.

“I can sort them quickly like this,” West said as he gave a brief demonstration, rapidly sliding his palms over one another. “That’s my speed technique.”

The Santa Rosa-based nonprofit held a four-hour “Shred-a-Thon” Friday to celebrate its contract with the County of Sonoma, offering for free its most popular social enterprise program, an initiative that allows adults with disabilities to earn a hard day’s work.

The Secured Document Shredding service has been a marquee offering since it launched in 1999. Becoming Independent shredded an average of 78 tons of paper per year at its main office, and last year took a step forward with a grant-funded purchase of a custom mobile truck, increasing both its efficiency and reach.

“In our first July we did almost 10 times what we do in an average month,” said Luana Vaetoe, chief executive of the nonprofit.

About 40 special needs clients served by the nonprofit work as part-time employees, either at the concession stand on SMART trains, in the cafe at Kaiser Permanente on Mercury Way, or shredding documents for 92 Sonoma County businesses.

Destroying papers is one of the most sought-after positions, Vaetoe said. About half of the clients enrolled in the social enterprise program do shredding work, and adding 52 new service locations under the county contract has provided a sense of legitimacy that can grow the operation at every level, she said.

“It caters to everybody (on the autism spectrum), and it really allows for individuals acclimating themselves to social expectations in the workplace,” Vaetoe said. “It gives them a path to work towards. It gives them an opportunity to work in a structured environment where they know what’s expected of them.”

The county contract, which runs through Nov. 30 with an option to extend for a year, is valued at more than $42,000.

At the end of Corporate Center Court in southwest Santa Rosa Friday morning, several shredders shuffled through document storage boxes and tossed them into gray trash bins with precision.

Once the bins filled up, Jay Jay Rico, director of social enterprise for Becoming Independent, rolled them toward the truck where a claw grasped and carried the bins on a conveyor built until they were turned level and emptied inside.

More than 50% of adults with disabilities are unemployed despite a strong desire to contribute to the workforce, Rico said.

The mobile truck will allow the shredding service to expand, bringing more clients into the program, he said. As the nonprofit becomes more self-sufficient, so do the clients who gain more independence each day on the job.

“We have to be innovative and raise our own funds and not be so reliant on the federal government to allow us to provide the best services possible,” Rico said. “That’s what it all comes down to at the end of the day.”

Anyone interested in the service can visit becomingindependent.org/shred for more information, or call 707-524-6644.

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

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