Grocery job tryout serves Wis. teen

Past prom queen Eden Foster is learning new things about popularity, and customer service, as one of the first of a group of teens with disabilities who are trying out jobs as part of a new program in Wisconsin.

Paid by the state of Wisconsin, the temporary stocker at Dick’s Fresh Market in River Falls is supported by ProAct Job Developer Traci Borchardt. She knew Foster while previously working as a teacher’s aide at a nearby middle school.

“Some of my friends work here,” said Foster, who is 17.

Borchardt said store employees are very supportive. “They treat her like a normal person.”

A fun atmosphere permeates the building across from UW-River Falls, as grocers pay extra attention to customer needs and freely kid with each other in the break room. Service is king in this college town with two grocery stores that has yet to see local big box competition, though a national chain store is coming this year.

Natasha Swedenborg in the grocery department has gladly taken Foster under her wing, recalling a disability of her own and her start at the store in 2000. “She’s amazing,” said Foster.

Sticking with and completing the less desirable tasks is part and parcel to most jobs, and Foster is on task. Borchardt provided a detailed, page-protected list of bathroom cleaning steps, and a laminated card with most job tasks for Foster to keep on her person.

Foster is working on polite customer greetings, and has benefited from the job developer’s list of 18 essential soft skills that employers expect. These are not soft on substance, and include items such as problem solving, cooperation, body language, manners, teamwork, time management and understanding expectations.

“I want to work here after high school,” said Foster. She has one year left.