When Alex Jordan, plant supervisor for Contemporary Cabinetry East (CCE), began working with the owners, Terri and Paul Hogan, on a program that would bring people with disabilities into the workplace, he wasn’t sure what to expect. These days, he sees a positive impact throughout the company.
Employees have enjoyed financial benefits of the exponential growth the company has seen since the 2008 recession, but Jordan says the addition of the workplace inclusion program has added an unexpected benefit, as well. He says employees have become more aware of a larger community that includes people who need a little extra help. “The idea that ‘we are all in this together’ seems more attainable now,” Jordan says. “The idea of giving back is an integral part of CCE’s corporate philosophy.”
The Hogans, whose son has an autism diagnosis, have personal insight into the need for improvements in the local community for individuals with disabilities. “From the very beginning, we saw needs in education, life skill training, therapies and more,” Terri says.
The transition to adulthood can be particularly difficult. Terri says students can participate in a state program that provides transition education experience from 18 to 22 where they learn work-related skills, but at 22, this assistance ends and the students are considered adults.
“Since we own a business and also realize the challenges those with special needs face, it seemed only natural that we investigate inclusion in the workplace here at CCE,” she says.
CCE had participated in charitable outreach for several years, but when the company made a decision to do more, Terri reached out to Tim Vogt at Starfire, a local nonprofit that makes community connections to help people with disabilities. Through Starfire, CCE was able to hire Mike Ames, who has been with the company for more than two years.
Ames is a jack of all trades at CCE, applying PVC edging to cabinet parts, filing and cleaning parts, helping out in the shipping and finishing departments and pitching in wherever help is needed. Jordan says he is always impressed by the positive disposition Ames and his fellow program participants display. “The normal minutiae of the workday have little impact on their work ethic and overall well-being,” he says.
CCE also works with the Children’s Home of Cincinnati on a workshop program that brings students together with CCE employees to craft custom projects like toolboxes, birdhouses, cutting boards and holiday crafts. The students can keep the items or sell them through the Children’s Home website to earn money for field trips and other expenses. Terri says CCE will double the scope of this project in the fall, growing from four student workshop attendees to eight.
In the meantime, Ames will continue his hard work at CCE. His effort and skill has opened the eyes and hearts of his managers and co-workers.
Brent Arrowsmith works alongside Ames and says the experience has been one of his first encounters with a person who has Down syndrome. “I’ll be honest,” Arrowsmith says. “I entered our work relationship with a certain amount of trepidation. There were a lot of unknowns for me about what I was getting into.” It didn’t take long for Arrowsmith to appreciate what Ames contributes.
“I have to say that being around Mike is one of the greatest joys I take from my job,” he says. “His kindness and willingness to help anyone who asks is admirable, and he has earned my respect and affection. Mike teaches me every day how to love more. His outlook reminds me to appreciate the things and people in my life. His presence somehow frees me so I can be the ‘me’ that sometimes I’m afraid to be. I’m a happier person because of my friend Mikey.”
Contemporary Cabinetry East is located at 8960 Rossash Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. For more information, call 513.791.9115.