Emily Brown, a prep cook for Buffalo Wild Wings in her late 20s, was excited last Tuesday as legislators and policy makers from across the state visited her at work for Take Your Legislator to Work Day, as part of National Disability Employment Month.
Buffalo Wild Wings hired Emily, who has developmental disabilities, almost a year ago and she now works 15 to 20 hours a week preparing portion sizes.
Last month Emily was named employee of the month.
Her manager, Eric Shapiro, said, “Emily is a huge asset, our staff loves her; she’s one of us. Without her, we would have trouble opening our doors on time.”
Take Your Legislator to Work Day, a campaign by APSE (Association of People Supporting Employment First), is to help policy makers see the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities and the success of community integrated employment so that they may be better informed when making decisions.
Gayle Reid, a board member for APSE and the employment program coordinator for the Trudeau Center, said, “The reality is that legislators make decisions on how money moves and where it goes. So, it is crucial that they see the importance of what we do and how we are helping to improve the lives of individuals with development disabilities.”
Emily, a client of the Trudeau Center, took part in the Trudeau Center’s culinary training program while continuing to work a part-time job in janitorial services.
Delainey Broggi, the culinary arts developer for Trudeau who worked with Emily, said the 12-week program teaches students about the many facets of culinary work and even has them test for a Food Safety Certification.
Broggi said she hasn’t had a single student that hasn’t passed their certification yet.
Toward the end of the program, students work on resumes, interviewing and also start applying for jobs.
“Emily was very gung-ho and persistent about getting into Buffalo Wild Wings. She went into the interview all smiles. She really wanted to get in here and was so excited when she found out she got the job,” Broggi said.
When Emily was hired, Denise Lavoie, an employment coach for Trudeau, went along with her. Over time Lavoie went less and less until Emily was comfortable working independently.
Lavoie said initially Emily had trouble memorizing all the portion sizes, so together they created a chart Emily could reference at work.
Now, other employees at Buffalo Wild Wings use the same chart.
Shapiro said, “She is always proactive seeing what else she can do to help. Once she’s finished one thing, she is right off to the next.”
Because of Emily’s success, Buffalo Wild Wings has committed to hiring two other employees with developmental disabilities.
Emily said that she loves working for the restaurant because she gets to meet so many new people and gets to try new foods. She thinks working at Buffalo Wild Wings has helped her become more adventurous.
As policy makers entered the kitchen, Emily asked some of them for their autographs.
Her first autograph was from Elizabeth Roberts, secretary of health and human services.
Roberts said, “Rhode Island’s comeback is focused on job creation. That means jobs and economic opportunity for all people, including our neighbors with developmental disabilities.”
In achieving such, Roberts said it is important for businesses like Buffalo Wild Wings to continue their commitment to providing opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Representative Joseph Shekarchi made a point that this is not a corporate policy, but rather an initiative by the local franchise.
He said it was rewarding to see a chain restaurant get credit for their part in helping individuals with developmental disabilities as well as make distinguishable ties to the community they do business in.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said Buffalo Wild Wings has “been open a little more than a year so far and they have quickly demonstrated positive forward thinking attitudes about the business climate here in the city.”
He also commended the Trudeau Center for their continued efforts to help those with disabilities not only integrate, but thrive in the community.
Judith Sullivan, CEO of the Trudeau Center, said this is only a “continuation” of the organization’s mission for the past 50 years.
She said, “I really believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to see that those with development disabilities get treated like human beings, that they are offered the same opportunities as anyone else, to work and contribute in their communities.”
Five other legislators visited Buffalo Wild Wings, including Senator Louis DiPalma (D-District 12), Senator William Walaska (D-District 30), Representative Joseph Solomon (D-Dsitrict 22), Representative David Bennett (D-District 20), and Representative Teresa Tanzi (D-District 34).
Before meeting Emily, the legislators heard from Reid and Maria Montanaro, director of Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).
Both noted that Buffalo Wild Wings is not the only business participating in the effort to hire individuals with developmental disabilities, but rather employers all over the state are recognizing the benefit of hiring these individuals.
Reid said, “Working is fundamental to all of us. It is a way to make friends, contribute to our communities and our general wellness.”
Despite successes, Montanaro said more businesses need to “adopt this perspective.”
The goal she said was to see people with developmental disabilities get “real jobs, with living wages,” to show off their skills.
Montanaro said, “Employees with developmental disabilities can been an inspiration and they are loyal and hard workers. We all have abilities and limitations and it is no different for them. These type of hires can benefit the whole workforce.”