Friday Success Story: Restaurant offers opportunity, gains valued employee

Alex has a learning disability and mobility issues. He also has an outgoing personality, a great smile and he wants to work. After high school, that desire led Alex to Sycamore Services, a United Way supported organization that works to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities by providing individualized training and services to increase their independence and quality of life.

Before Alex was assigned to Sycamore’s Rebecca Stanley, two other employment consultants had already failed to find employment for Alex. His worsening mobility difficulties were more than what many employers were comfortable with. His mother was considering trying another provider, but gave Rebecca until December 2013 to find him a job. Rebecca found Alex to be a joy to work with. In her eyes, he had a lot going for him and, with her experienced support, she was sure he could be successful. But first, she would have to help Alex meet the challenges his disabilities presented to potential employers.

Driving by an Olive Garden restaurant one day, Rebecca remembered what a wonderful employer the company had been to her consumers in the past. She whipped into the parking lot, went inside and made an impromptu presentation to the shift manager. He promised to pass the information on to his general manager. When Rebecca called to follow up a week later, the GM told her they hadn’t participated in the program for quite some time but he was willing to try again. Rebecca immediately scheduled a time for him to meet Alex.

Alex uses a large walker with a seat on it and the GM had concerns about how he would be able to maneuver it around the restaurant. Rebecca suggested a “work trial” and they set a date. Things did not go well. The trial was in the kitchen where Alex had to stand and roll silverware in an unfamiliar manner. Alex became very frustrated and was ready to quit. Rebecca asked the manager to give him another trial the next day. She made a few simple changes to the work station and this time Alex doubled his production. The manager then wanted to try Alex as a host, but he had to have a proper uniform. Rebecca told him that the uniform could be purchased, but first Alex would have to have a firm job offer. The manager looked Alex in the eye and said, “OK, let’s do it. How about it Alex? You want to come work for Olive Garden?”

Alex is doing a bang up job! He quickly learned the restaurant’s computer program, gets along well with his co-workers and the customers love him. Olive Garden is also his favorite restaurant. When he first started, he kept saying he couldn’t believe he was working at Olive Garden!

Note: United Way brings together compassionate people who are committed to improving lives in our community. We help Central Indiana residents achieve and maintain self-sufficiency by directing resources toward four key areas of community impact – Education, Income, Health and Basic Needs. Sycamore Services is one of over 90 United Way funded agencies whose programs address one or more of these priorities.

Since 2008, UWCI has invested nearly $1.2 million in support of Sycamore Service’s efforts to provide enhanced quality of life and increased independence for individuals with disabilities or other daily living challenges. The agency’s 2014-15 United Way allocation is $131,889.