Michelle’s Story

Our tag line at Furnace Hills Coffee is, “Special Coffee Roasted by Special People.” We believe that our coffee ranks with the best you can buy in this country because special people roast it. Erin, Jason & Chris add something to the work place that no one else can bring. And they do their jobs with excellence.

The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) has launched an initiative that will employ more with developmental disabilities and especially those with Down Syndrome into the mainstream. We are promoting #DSWORKS as part of our initiatives. If you know of a business owner who does not employ someone with developmental disabilities, let them know they are missing out on a great opportunity to improve their culture, create a special product/experience and improve their bottom line. Your friend needs these special people as much as they need to be employed.

Below you’ll read about Michelle. She is someone who has made a difference for a company and a culture in a mall. I think you’ll be as challenged by her story as we have been.

Michelle, who has intellectual and developmental disabilities, also uses an electric wheelchair. Her interests include working with children and visiting one particular shopping mall. While Michelle couldn’t work in daycare to read to children or pick them up, she was able to visit her favorite mall every week. She knew where the pet store was, JCPenney’s, Spencer’s, everything. Easter Seals’ assistant VP of workforce development, Carol Salter, went to the mall to look for ideas for a possible job for Michelle. A global coffee retailer had a kiosk there. Salter approached and asked if they would consider bringing on a staff member if it would make the store more money. Employees of the other stores in the mall often couldn’t get free to visit the coffee retailer, so why not add a
delivery service? The store employees were willing to consider the idea. Salter registered with the state vocational rehabilitation services and had a tray built for Michelle’s electric wheelchair, complete with a bolted lock box and cup holders. The pair took several weeks and went to employees in every store, introducing Michelle, saying she was going to work at the coffee retailer and deliver orders. Employees would need to deposit exact change. Salter sewed a coffee store apron to the back of Michelle’s wheelchair, and she was ready to go.
Michelle became an employee of the coffee retailer, receiving benefits for part-time work, and expanding her social network. People in the mall knew Michelle by her first name. And the coffee retailer made more money. Patrons started adding more than exact change, so Michelle earned tips as well. After two months, Salter noticed that between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. there were few incoming coffee orders because most mall employees were taking lunch. So she thought, why not use Michelle’s slow time to deliver lunches from the food court? Michelle also began working for the mall’s food court association. Each food court vendor chipped in to pay Michelle to deliver lunches to workers for those two hours each day. A light was installed above each store to alert Michelle when an order was placed
for delivery.
This success spurred Salter to go to other malls to broach the concept. “Now we have to find people with motorized wheelchairs to fill the spots.”

What an awesome story of how one person with developmental disabilities raised the social and economic environment in one mall. We are telling business owners these days that if you do not hire at least one person who has a developmental disability your business is not reaching its full potential.

Do you know of a business that could hire someone with a developmental disability? Make plans to talk to them this week. Share Michelle’s story with them.

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