Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Christmas Story

Christmas Eve has always been a special time in the Lavin household and it was no different this year in 2005. We spent some quality time together attending a Christmas Eve service, opening gifts, eating dinner, listening to Christmas music, and sharing stories about what is happening in our lives. My oldest daughter, Kelly Lavin, grabbed everyone’s undivided attention when she said: “I have a fun Christmas story to share with all of you. It’s a story about someone I support.”

Kelly is an employment consultant at Kaposia, Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota, and provides job support services for adults with development disabilities as well as their employers in the Twin Cities’ workforce. Kelly went on to share a story with us about a supported employee named “Nancy.” Nancy was placed by Kaposia in February of 2004 at a company called LifeSource. Headquartered in St. Paul, LifeSource is a private, non-profit organization designated by the United States federal government to manage all aspects of organ and tissue donation in a wide geographic area of the Midwest. This large service region includes Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Western Wisconsin.

The articulated vision of LifeSource is quite attention getting: “Life is a gift to share.” This company serves as a bridge between loss of life and the gift of life through organ donation and transplantation. LifeSource works with physicians, hospitals, and medical clinics that are in the business of saving lives through organ transplantation for people facing the possibility of death. Most Americans don’t realize there are 87,000 adults and children in the United States who need lifesaving organ transplants. In fact, 17 people from the national donor waiting list die every day due to a shortage of available organs. LifeSource works to educate the public and offers community outreach to encourage more people to respectfully consider the lifesaving benefits of becoming a registered organ donor.

As Kelly’s Christmas story unfolds, she told us about an annual performance review scheduled for Nancy by LifeSource to discuss her job performance this past year. Kelly was invited to attend this meeting as a key member of Nancy’s job support team. Kelly visits LifeSource at least once a week to deliver critical services to enhance Nancy’s on-the-job performance and increase the company’s supervision capacities.

A woman in her late 40's, Nancy lives with an intellectual disability and was hired by LifeSource to perform a wide variety of duties as an Office Assistant. According to Kelly, Nancy performs clerical and light cleaning duties for various departments throughout the company. She earns $10.05 per hour, works three days a week, and her broad range of project activities brings Nancy into routine contact with many of LifeSource’s employees.

“Nancy was absolutely terrified about this upcoming performance review,” Kelly shared with us. “You see, this was no routine job performance review because the company’s CAO (Chief Administrative Officer) as well as her direct line supervisor would be meeting with us. Nancy was worried because of who would be attending the meeting and that the entire focus was to discuss how she was doing in a job that was customized around her abilities,” Kelly continued.

During the meeting, Nancy’s supervisor enumerated the ways in which Nancy’s customized job had helped the company carry out its important mission during the past year. LifeSource’s CAO also shared how the company truly valued Nancy’s hard work and many contributions. Both managers commented about how well-liked Nancy was and how effectively she was working with so many of her colleagues on team projects. According to Kelly, the job performance review was running splendidly until the company’s CAO paused for a moment and said: “Nancy, could you please excuse us? Can you wait here for just one minute? I think there are some people here who have something they would like to say to you.”

Skillfully, Kelly goes on and weaves her Christmas story: “All of a sudden, LifeSource’s CAO stands up and leaves the room. At this point, Nancy’s eyes drew open wide and she looks over at me with an expression of shock and high anxiety. Then, in a loud voice Nancy asked me: ‘Where are they going?! Once again, in a loud tone of voice: ‘Kelly, where are they going?! Who wants to speak to me?!’ Nancy had a look of terror on her face. In all honestly, I had no idea what was happening,”

“OK, it was only a few minutes but it must have felt like an eternity to Nancy. She was rocking so hard from side-to-side in her swivel chair that I thought she might actually tip over in it,” Kelly said laughing. At this point, Kelly had created enough suspense that our family members were on the edge of their chairs anxiously awaiting her story’s conclusion.

“Then unexpectedly, five of Nancy’s colleagues entered the room where we had been waiting. Each co-worker exchanged holiday greetings with us and then someone from the group extended a gift to Nancy on behalf of the entire LifeSource team. Nancy excitedly opened the envelope and it contained a ‘thank you’ note and gift card of $100 from Kohl’s,” Kelly shared.

“In a flash, Nancy’s expression changed from panic to one of sheer joy. She began shouting: ‘I’m going to Kohl’s!!!’ ‘I’m going to Kohl’s!!!’ Kohl’s is Nancy’s favorite place to shop for clothes and her co-workers knew this,” Kelly said. “And the gift card was a holiday bonus being shared with Nancy on behalf of the company and in appreciation of her outstanding work this past year!”

According to Kelly, everyone in the room applauded and congratulated Nancy for a job well done. And Kelly was able to share in this personal and touching moment with Nancy and her LifeSource colleagues. “It just doesn’t get any better than this for an employment consultant who is committed to the idea of workforce inclusion,” said Kelly.

After a few minutes of celebration, Nancy’s direct line supervisor pulled Kelly off to the side and she said quietly: “Kelly, I think Nancy is going to need some special help in getting to her transportation tomorrow after our company holiday party.” Kelly was puzzled by the supervisor’s comment. Nancy’s supervisor offered more detail: “Kelly, Nancy is so well-liked by LifeSource’s employees. I have already received reports that she will be receiving many individual gifts from her co-workers here. There is no way that she is going to be able to carry all of these gifts to the bus on her own. Is there some way we can offer Nancy assistance so she can carry all of these presents home?”

“Of course,” Kelly responded.

Kelly shared this story of hope and why she is so committed to the work she is doing. For a young professional, it was another lesson learned about how a company with progressive management and access to technical assistance can choose to customize employment for adults with disabilities and share in the benefits of workplace inclusion. Despite Nancy’s lack of competitive work experience, it came as no surprise to Kelly that she would become a valued and productive employee at LifeSource. “There is a very good reason LifeSource was named One of the Best Places to Work in Minnesota by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. You see, this company lives its vision and values each and every work day,” Kelly said with a broad smile.

Imagine that. “Life is a gift to share.” Now there’s a company motto that is worth living up to all seasons of the year.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story!! Thanks for sharing!! It is great to hear when someone who society and others believe may not be "employed", do become employed and succeed well beyond expectations. Congrats to the company who was willing to take the chance and hire her and "customize" her job duties!! GREAT JOB!!

10:14 AM  

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