From Anthony K. Shriver, Founder, Chairman & CEO
While we observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) every October, here at Best Buddies, it’s actually something we celebrate each and every day. There is nothing that gets me more excited than talking about the successes and special abilities of participants in our Jobs program, which matches qualified individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) with businesses seeking great employees — people who are enthusiastic, skilled and dedicated.
When we were just getting started at Best Buddies, I said, “Let’s turn corporate America on to this incredible population of people who are so hungry to contribute and give back.” So in 1994, we launched Best Buddies Jobs in Florida, California and Massachusetts, and since then, it’s grown a lot. I’m thrilled to say that our Jobs program is in 19 locations, including our new Fresno, CA office.
Despite our success, we still have a long way to go in terms of getting people with IDD off of the sidelines and into the workforce, where they belong. Meaningful work gives people with IDD — and all of us – a deeply needed sense of purpose and human connection every day. Still, a shocking 81% of adults with developmental disabilities do not have a paid job in the community. While that number crushes my heart, with your help and the employers who hire our fantastic Jobs candidates, we are doing a lot to change that!
Here’s the good news at Best Buddies: Our 402 Jobs participants in the U.S. earn an average of $12.64 per hour, about $3 more than people with IDD not in our program. Our two highest paid participants earn $45,800 and $48,700, respectively, and more than half of our Jobs participants receive some type of employee benefits, including but not limited to, medical and dental benefits, paid vacation/sick days, and enrollment in company 401K plans. It’s no surprise that the Best Buddies Jobs program average national retention rate over the course of one year for employed participants is 93%!
To convey the power of what integrated employment means to individuals with IDD and employers, I wanted to share this fantastic story about Topher Zheng, a 23-year-old student and IT whiz. In September 2017, Topher, who has autism, landed a part-time position at Bielinska Law with the help of Best Buddies Chicago’s Jobs program.
Topher’s boss, Izabella Bielinska, says she walks into the office giddy on the day Topher’s coming in because she knows he’s going to save her four hours of work. And for Topher, the feeling is mutual. He’s so happy to be using his talents and skills in a professional office environment where he gets to interact with a good boss and colleagues.
Izabella sent the following email describing Topher’s contributions during the first month they worked together:
“I originally hired Topher for an office administrative position — to assist with copying, scanning and filing. But when I first met with him, it turned out he had hidden talents. Topher is a technology specialist — he is familiar with systems, some coding and features, of not just computers, but also tablets, phones, anything tech-related. He is also full of ideas and suggestions on how to make things run better and smoother.
We got to work on Day One and Topher immediately asked to help on a court case we had on his very first day. His energy is infectious.
So my original idea that he’d be an office assistant went out the window right away. So far, he’s helped optimize all of our computer programs and email system and also switched our website domain provider! He’s also working on redesigning the firm’s website, Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
But that’s not all. He’s picking up the court-related tasks as well (and usually only needs to be shown how to do something once or twice). He goes to court to file documents, schedules motions and brings documents for hearings. He also enters new dates into our firm calendar and reminds me of upcoming court dates (because I’m often forgetting them). He now has the courthouse system memorized!
Not only is he adding value to the firm by optimizing technology and taking care of other tasks so that I can work on the legal part of things, he is so friendly and energetic that everyone now knows who HE is and who WE are as a firm by meeting the staff and people from other law firms that also work on our floor. Topher’s much more than I could have ever anticipated and I couldn’t be happier that I found him.”
Creating inclusive workplaces starts with employers like Izabella reaching out and saying, “I want to invest in the community and I want to get something great back.” You can help us as we work to make Best Buddies Jobs and employment opportunities available in more communities. And even if our Jobs program isn’t in your city (YET!), you can make a difference by advocating in your workplace for acceptance of people with IDD who have so much to give.
Join our Best Buddies Job Program. Hire today.