Thursday, October 17, 2013


A couple of years ago, spurred by changes in the economy, Nevin decided to end his career as a home builder.  An opportunity arose to begin a business producing sauces and dressings, and thus Woodside Kitchen was born.  Of course, it wasn't all quite that simple.  In reality, it included tearing out hair and sweating blood, but nevertheless, here we are today in a new realm.

A couple of important factors went into our decision:
  • we wanted to have work for Wade when he grows up
  • we wanted to teach responsibility to our other boys by working with them 
About the time when we were thinking most seriously about going through with this, we had a family come and talk to our support group who had two adults with Down syndrome, one biological and one adopted. These young people were well-mannered, capable, confident, and joyful.  In spite of good work ethics, however, they were having difficulty finding good employment.  As they and their parents shared their stories, it became apparent to us that much of the problem lay in finding an employer who understood and was willing to take the extra steps needed to make employment a success.

It occurred to us that evening that Woodside Kitchen (which was as yet unnamed and non-existent!) could provide the kind of environment and the type of work which could serve the disability community quite well.  And so we went forward, believing that this would be one of the most worthy goals for which we could strive.

Since then, we have read about a few other companies with similar goals.

Dye Creek Capital of Wilmington, NC, is an investment firm seeking to make a difference.  Young adults with various special needs are hired to greet clients, or tend to clerical or custodial tasks.  Ben and Amy Wright, the inspiration and owners of this business, are the parents of four children, two of whom have Down syndrome.

Their dedication to supporting those with disabilities is apparent right down to the pottery displayed in the lobby (by Christian Royal) and the paintings hung on the walls (by an art student who has Down syndrome).
Some [clients], understandably, are momentarily taken aback before heading upstairs to Ben's offices to talk finances and investment.
"If (interacting with the special staff) deters them, it's probably not the right fit with us anyway," Ben said. "Turns out, though, that our clients have embraced our business model as evidenced by the constant flow of thank you notes and letters of encouragement to our employees."
Amy echoed her husband's thoughts.
"We have witnessed time and time again when people with different abilities spend time together the walls come down," she said. "We believe putting our employees on the front end of our business, interacting with our clients, is a great way to tear down some of these walls."
You can read more about Dye Creek in this article:  "Investment Firm Buys into Hiring Special Needs Employees".

Habitat International is another inspiring businesses.
A leading supplier of artificial-grass and indoor-outdoor carpet products for The Home Depot, Lowe’s and other retailers, Habitat International Inc. is a socially responsible business dedicated to providing jobs for hard-to-place workers.
Launched by David Morris and his father Saul in 1981, the Chattanooga, Tennessee company has become a role model for other businesses, disability advocates and the general public.
Habitat's story has been told in the book Able.  One of the most fascinating things about this story is the work environment David Morris has been able to create by allowing his employees to make use of their unique talents to bond a sort of brotherhood where everyone feels needed and valued.  The statistics below (taken from the book) show that the value of the employees is real and not just a make-work-because-I-feel-sorry-for-you-program.

Without government assistance, Morris's company has prospered even in the economic downturn.  Habitat can boast:

  1. Zero back orders in 27 years.
  2. Product defect rate:  Less than one-half or 1 percent.
  3. Only one minor accident among the workers with disabilities.
  4. Practically no absenteeism.
  5. Very little turnover due to job dissatisfaction or firings.
  6. Cross-training for all employees, thereby ensuring job flexibility.
  7. Fewer supervisors, not more.  Employees are proud of what they can accomplish whether or not the boss is present.
  8. Less time and money spent tracking comparative data.

The video below further highlights what a role model Habitat has become for any business wanting to make a difference beyond the ordinary.

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