SIOUX CITY — Even among the 50 people who work at Whispering Creek Senior Living, Stephanie Ferris finds a way to separate herself from the pack.

The 30-year-old Sioux City woman works full-time as a dishwasher at the east side retirement community but also goes out of her way to establish a connection with the residents.

Ferris is considered a 5-star employee at Whispering Creek. To garner this designation, which includes a wage increase, an employee goes through a voluntary additional 40-hour training program and agrees to put on at least two community service events per year involving residents.

For her service projects, Ferris and groups of residents bake and donate dog treats for the local Humane Society.

“I have a rather huge turnout,” Ferris said. “They love doing it.”

Success stories similar to Ferris’s are what the agencies behind Sioux Rivers Partners are trying to relay to regional employers who desire dedicated and effective workers in an area where the unemployment rate is consistently low.

Sioux Rivers Partners is a marketing partnership comprised of Hope Haven International of Rock Valley, Life Skills Training Center of Le Mars, and Goodwill of the Great Plains, New Perspectives Inc. and Mid-Step Services Inc. all of Sioux City.

Those five agencies help provide community-based employment for people in Plymouth, Sioux and Woodbury counties who have mental, physical or intellectual disabilities. Each of those agencies has a method for helping clients find and retain gainful employment.

People served by NPI are referred to as “consumers” and their disabilities are referred to as “barriers.”

At NPI, employment specialists help the nonprofit’s consumers work through their barriers to acclimate to their new positions, monitor their progress and provide additional assistance throughout their tenure through a job coaching program.

Emily Garvin and Jessica Gross are two NPI employment specialist who act as job coaches with Ferris.

Gross noted they are pretty hands-on with their consumers — especially in the initial stages — which is a service most employers they work with seem to appreciate.

Nicole Ellermeier, executive director of Whispering Creek, agreed with that assertion and views this partnership as mutually beneficial. Ellermeier said her company has worked with NPI for a little more than two years and Ferris was the first employee they hired through the service.

Whispering Creek had a few positions it had trouble filling and Ellermeier said they wanted to think outside the box on how to fill them, which was the original impetus for the partnership with NPI.

A little more than two years since that connection was established, Ellermeier is incredibly pleased with the results. She noted that of Whispering Creek's 50 employees, only 10 of them have earned the 5-star designation, something she said Ferris was adamant about achieving.

The executive director said she’s happy with Ferris’s performance and that she fits in well with the residents, staff and work culture at Whispering Creek. Ellermeier also highly recommends other employers considering partnering with NPI and its Sioux Rivers Partners affiliates to fill staff shortages.

Ferris also seems content with her job. She enjoys getting to know the residents and likes the change of pace the facility offers her compared to some of her previous work experiences.

When asked if she views Whispering Creek as a long-term fit for her, Ferris seemed pretty confident that it would be.

“I’ll be here for awhile,” she said. “I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.”

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