Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Working, The Great Equalizer

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be partially blind or deaf and be looking for a job? Intellectually challenged or having any one of a number of other 'disabilities' that make you different from the usual job applicant? Unable to stand up to work, or unable to sit for long periods of time usually required for a desk job? This post is to give companies who promote diversity in their workplace and supportive work environments for the differently able a shout out and to say 'thank you, you are appreciated.'

As a parent of a disabled young adult, one of the most important things you can encourage them to do is to get a job.  Work is a great equalizer.  This isn't to say that your young adult is likely to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company (few of us have that chance).  But work, even if it is part time, gives them a great feeling of being ABLE to do what other young adults their age are doing. 

Sometimes finding a job is tricky, some employers are more equal opportunity employers than others.  I'd like to give a shout out to three companies in the Philadelphia area that are well known for being willing to train young adults to be contributing members of their workforce than some others.

Top of the list is Wawa Inc.  For those who live in the PA/NJ/DE/MD/VA area you are already probably familiar with Wawa convenience stores and gas stations (where you can usually get the lowest gas prices around!)  Their corporate headquarters is located in Chester Heights, Pennsylvania, near the community of Wawa PA. 

Wawa offers young adults the opportunity to learn on the job and their managers are well known for being helpful to young workers who need a little bit of extra help.  Combine their friendly management attitude with their willingness to work with the local school districts on job placement while students are still in high school and you find a company I'm proud to patronize. 

At any given time you'll find young adults (and older ones) doing a variety of jobs that suit their abilities.  So the next time you're thinking 'where should I stop for coffee' on the way to work, stop in your local Wawa. Support their willingness to help all the members of their community be active participants in the workplace. 

Wawa in my neighborhood recently celebrated the 45th Anniversary of their store on Burmont Road in Drexel Hill PA.  Wawa's PR coordinator, Colleen Labik said "Wawa is like being part of a family.  Our customers can go anywhere for their cup of coffee but they choose to come here because of that special bond  between the store associates and the customers." 

I was talking to some of the customers who had come to help Wawa celebrate this special occasion.  One said "The managers come and go, but there's a young lady who is always here smiling and helping me out, she's the reason I come in every day."  He pointed to her across the store, imagine my pride when I saw he was pointing to my daughter. A true proud mom moment.  But she is only one of many employees Wawa has with varying skill levels and physical disabilities.

Another employer who trains students from the VoTech to recent grads from the Special Education program at the high school is Red Lobster.  Red Lobster, part of the Darden Restaurant chain, provides seafood dining experiences even for the landlocked!  Darden Restaurants have a long history of 'being of service,' and promotoing 'diversity,' and 'respect and caring in the communities where we live and work.' This is reflected in many ways but especially in their willingness to hire those with different levels of ability.

Darden also teams up with a number of non-profit organizations that have a track record of effectively serving and representing the members of the communities where they are located.  This includes organizations assisting the disabled.  Kudos to Red Lobster and all Darden Restaurants (which include The Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze,  Season 52 and Captial Grille) for recognizing and acting on this important concept. 

Darden also supports Habitat for Humanity through furniture donations to its ReStore outlets, the American Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program, and local food banks in communities across the United States through our Darden Harvest food donation program, many of which benefit the disabled.

ACME Markets Inc. is another company that offers employment opportunities to the differently able.  Acme began in 1891 with the opening of a small neighborhood market in South Philadelphia that emphasized quality foods, friendly service and low prices.  Samuel Robinson and Robert Crawford, opened a small neighborhood grocery store at Second and Fernon Streets in South Philadelphia, and more than 120 years later ACME has expanded and provides jobs for people in PA/NJ/DE/and MD.
Today, ACME operates 116 stores, employing more than 13,000 associates. In addition to providing the community with a convenient and reliable place to shop, most days you walk into an ACME you'll find employees with a variety of abilities working to make ACME you choice of a place to shop.  The bagger who is partially blind, the disabled cashier, the stock person who needs a little extra help, all have a place in the ACME family.

Do you know a company that is actively helping the differently able become part of the work force?  Leave me a comment or send me an email.  We're planning on doing 'shout outs' highlighting companies that are 'differently able friendly' and their employees.

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