Disability Employment Changes One Man’s Life


m3Staff Report

October was designated as National Disability Employment Awareness Month by the U.S. Department of Labor, highlighting the important role people with disabilities play in workplace diversity. On October 24, 2016, Delaware Sen. Tom Carper decided to experience first-hand what that meant in his state by visiting Jerome Watson, a hard-working person with disabilities thriving as a valued kitchen staff member at Baywood Greens in Long Neck. Sen. Carper learned that including people with disabilities in community employment benefits not only the individuals working, but the companies for which they work as well.

“All of us can contribute. Work brings you dignity. It says something about who you are and what you’re about,” Sen. Carper remarked during his visit to Baywood Greens. “National Disability Employment Awareness Month gives us an opportunity to spread the message to employers that there’s a great value in employing our community members with disabilities.”

Baywood Greens is a premier golf community with an extensive clubhouse and restaurant facility. It depends largely upon seasonal employees, both local and international, that flood the area during summers. While that seasonal labor force is a significant staffing resource, it also has its downfall when the vacation season ends. Lincoln Davis, Executive Director of Tunnell Companies LP, the parent company for Baywood Greens, describes the impact that has on his business.

“One of our most significant staffing challenges is reliability, as well as the seasonality of the business. Every year, you have to start from scratch because of the seasonal fluctuation in labor. Finding year-round people is really a challenge,” said Mr. Davis.

Baywood’s head chef Tom Deptula faced the need for a year-round dishwasher in the restaurant’s kitchen. He came across an application submitted by a not-for-profit organization called Kent-Sussex Industries, Inc. (KSI) on behalf of a young man named Jerome Watson. Unbeknownst to Chef Deptula, Jerome was an individual with developmental disabilities working with KSI’s Supported Employment services to gain community employment success. KSI Supported Employment helped Jerome find potentials jobs, apply for jobs, train for the duties involved in his work and remain successful throughout the course of his employment. When Baywood’s chef called KSI Employment Specialist James “J.C.” Daughaday, they arranged an interview for Jerome right away. With strong prior country club experience, Jerome immediately impressed Baywood’s staff and they offered him a full-time job.

Robert Tunnell III, of Tunnell Companies LP, had heard about KSI and its services before. However, Jerome was the first Supported Employee Baywood Greens had the opportunity to integrate into its staff. And it’s opened up a world of potential for his businesses.

“We found a great fit and we’re very proud to work with Jerome,” said Mr. Tunnell. “And we’re starting to think of other areas we can find a fit for workers with disabilities.”

One of the real benefits for Baywood Greens was that Jerome came with a great attitude and a real willingness to work—both highly-valued traits in new hires. Chef Deptula said Jerome brings a lot of positivity to a stressful environment. “He has one of the sunniest dispositions. I love having him in there because he’s always smiling and he brings everyone else up. He’s been great and he’s exceeded our expectations.”

Jerome also came with extra help from KSI Supported Employment services that helped him acclimate to the job quickly and remain successful for Baywood Greens. Restaurant management company SoDel Concepts, which operates Baywood’s hospitality services, saw the positive experience that extra support created.

“KSI has been amazing. It’s a much easier transition,” says SoDel Concepts Director of Operations for Baywood Greens, Danielle Panarello. “KSI helps with transportation and expectations on the job. And it helps to have a point person to contact if there’s a change in work duties or scheduling.”

For Jerome, J.C Daughaday is the partner he needed to get him up to speed in his job. “J.C. checks in on how I’m doing, and keeps checking back to make sure I’m doing well,” shared Jerome.

It took no time at all for him to get comfortable and become a welcome team member. In fact, Jerome got to share one of his own personal talents when he was included as guest deejay during a staff party only a few weeks after he started work. “He’s a great worker and has completely become part of the team,” Ms. Panarello related. “Jerome is part of us now, and we’re not letting him go.”

With job growth being a primary focus during Sen. Carper’s career, he is very interested in the progress being made integrating workers with disabilities into the benefits of community employment. “One of the things we do is create a nurturing environment for job growth and economic development. That’s what we’re focused on,” Sen. Carper shared.“One of the greatest joys for me is seeing people getting to work, paying for themselves and being self-sufficient.”

Jerome was of particular interest to him because one of the legislator’s earliest jobs was working as a dishwasher in college. So while he toured Baywood’s kitchen with Jerome on October 24, the Senator saw a lot of familiar machinery with which he had experience. But he also saw the pride Jerome had working alongside the kitchen’s staff every day.

”I worked my way through college as the pots and pans man at Ohio State,” said Sen. Carper. “Jerome and I bonded over running the Hobart dishwashing machine, and the confidence having a good job can give you. I’m proud of the work KSI is doing to connect employers with great employees like Jerome.”

KSI Employment Manager Kami Giglio, who heads up the organization’s Supported Employment team, expressed the importance of getting and keeping community employment has for people with disabilities. “I’ve worked with people with disabilities my whole career. But I hadn’t worked at helping people become productive employees before coming to Delaware,” Ms. Giglio said to Sen. Carper. “You mentioned how work brings dignity. And that has had the greatest impact on me—how that achievement changes lives.”

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