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Hillsboro Civic Center cleaner due to work of disabled janitorial duo

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - (Left to right) Portland Habilitation Center Northwests Edwin Lux, Abel Ovalle and Stephen Connor pause at the Hillsboro Civic Center. Edwin Lux and Stephen Connor love their jobs.

For more than a decade the pair has performed the janitorial duties at the Hillsboro Civic Center, 150 E. Main St. And while it may seem improbable for two janitors to love their jobs, it’s worth noting that without their employer, Lux and Connor might not have jobs at all.

They work for Portland Habilitation Center Northwest, a northeast Portland-based nonprofit that offers broad-based educational training and job opportunities to roughly 700 people in the Portland metro area with mental, physical and developmental disabilities.

The center trains and creates employment opportunities for people who face barriers, said Alysa Rose, CEO for the center. “It’s a win our employees, a win for taxpayers and a win for our clients.”

PHC Northwest works with clients whose disabilities range from cerebral palsy to Down Syndrome to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“We represent all different kinds of disabilities, from mental limitations to physical limitations,” said Tiffini Mueller, director of marketing and communications for PHC Northwest. “We look for people with disabilities who’ve ever faced a barrier to employment and try to get them into our program.”

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Stephen Connor takes out the trash at the Hillsboro Civic Center. Connor has worked as a janitor with the Portland Habilitation Center Northwest for the past 25 years. State law requires city and county public agencies to acquire products and services from Qualified Rehabilitation Facilities — like the center — when they’re made available through the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.

Among its employment offerings are clerical jobs (like at a call center), landscaping, industrial work and housing development.

However, “Janitorial is the heart of what we do ... but janitorial services have a bit of a stigma,” Rose said, noting the national turnover rate for janitorial employees is more than 200 percent, while the center sees a rate of barely 20 percent.

“Pretty much every day we get a nice note from folks who appreciate our services,” Rose said. “But it’s not like we’re doing them a favor. They’re doing us a favor — it’s a win-win.”

By developing long-term contracts with nine agencies in Washington County alone, the center is able to employ 77 full time equivalent positions for folks like Lux and Connor.

“If anybody had an excuse not to work, it’d be Steve,” said Abel Ovalle, project manager for the center. “But he comes in and puts in eight-hour days and takes pride in what he does.”

Connor’s favorite part of the job is shampooing the Civic Center’s carpets and buffing the floors. The worst part, he said, is the messes in the toilet stalls.

Lux enjoys how nice all the city employees are.

“The other day, in the elevator,” he said, “(City Manager) Michael Brown said what a great job we do.”

“When you look back at what you’ve done, you feel proud of yourself,” said Connor, 62, who noted how much he doesn’t like seeing people not work for themselves. “I work my butt off … and if Eddie needs help, he calls me. If I need help, I call Eddie. We work as a team.”

“They’re always looking for ways to do a better job for everybody,” Ovalle said. “At any given time, when you walk into the Civic Center, you’ll never catch them not working.”

At a recent city council meeting, Lux and Connor were honored by Mayor Jerry Willey for their longtime commitment to keeping the Civic Center spick and span.

“It was cool,” said Lux, 30, who had never before won an award.

Connor has been working through the Center for 25 years, Lux for 12.

“When you come to work at Portland Habilitation Center, there’s a level of commitment to the people — the janitors, the workers,” said Ovalle. “We tend to focus less on their disabilities and more on their abilities. You get to know your janitors and what they can and cannot do. You don’t want to set them up for failure. You want to put them in a place where they can soar and build self confidence.”

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