Regulars at the Hermiston Taco Bell on weekday afternoons expect to be greeted with a smile by Mark Leach, one of the store’s most enthusiastic workers.
“I love my job,” he said.
Leach, 52, has been working at Taco Bell for a year and a half through an employment program at Horizon Project that helps individuals with developmental disabilities hold jobs. LaTonya Avila, a Horizon Project employee who accompanies Leach to his job, said he is well-known by many customers, some of whom even leave him tips.
“There’s people who always recognize him, who really notice how hard he works,” she said.
Hermiston’s own Mark Leach can be found restocking the napkins, wiping down tables and emptying garbage in Taco Bell’s lobby on most days. He calls himself the lobby supervisor.
“I help the customers that need it with their pops, like the little kids that need help to put their lids on,” he said.
Kelly Shockman of Horizon Project said keeping the front of house organized and stocked with cups, napkins, hot sauce packets and other items is his “pride and joy.”
He also has the important job of emptying used grease from the fryers into a special dumpster, and sweeping up garbage from the parking lot. Avila said seeing all of the cigarette butts on the ground out front always makes him frustrated that people don’t clean up after themselves.
He keeps a good attitude, though.
“He’s a huge jokester,” she said.
“Your shoe’s untied,” he responded, looking at Shockman. She laughed, but refused to fall for the trick.
“I tease these guys all the time,” Leach said.
When he’s not working at Taco Bell, Leach builds model cars, erector sets and other hands-on projects. One of his favorite things to do is shop at Hobby Lobby in the Tri-Cities for new models and then “tinkering” with them.
Leach grew up in California, then moved to Oregon with family after his brother got a job in Nyssa. After both of his parents passed away, Leach moved to a group home run by Horizon Project, which he has been involved with for nearly a decade.
Horizon Project started in Milton-Freewater in 1978 and expanded its services to Hermiston in 2002 and Pendleton in 2004, according to their website. The organization aims to give individuals with intellectual disabilities more independence and an opportunity to participate in activities outside their home. The organization offers employment services such as job training, community job placement and direct employment at their recycling operation in Milton-Freewater. They also offer housing services, including group homes and semi-independent living arrangements, and provide daytime activities for individuals who are not able to be employed.
Longtime Pendleton residents might recognize the name Mark Leach from the Mark Leach Memorial Award, given to Pendleton High School athletes in remembrance of an intellectually disabled man known as “Pendleton’s number one sports fan” who passed away in 2003. The two Mark Leaches are not related, as far as anyone at Horizon Project knows.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.