A Small Business's Solution to Increasing Inclusion



Contemporary Cabinetry interns Joseph Burger, Blake Shannon and Micah Krumpack.

Photography by Tracy Doyle

 

After age 18, there are fewer educational opportunities for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Paul and Terri Hogan of Contemporary Cabinetry East in Blue Ash are trying to close that gap and show other small business owners that including people with disabilities in the workforce is a benefit, not a hindrance, to their bottom line.

“One of our purposes and goals as owners of a business is helping the community in any way we can,” says Terri, who is CEO.

Terri had been thinking for a long time about what their business could do to teach important employment skills to young people with ASD before the internship was developed. In February, the company began its woodshop internship with four students ages 18-22 from the Children’s Home of Cincinnati.

“This is untapped. The need is increasing every day, especially in America,” says Alex Jordan, plant manager for Contemporary Cabinetry.

No two individuals with autism are alike. The symptoms and characteristics of ASD present themselves in various ways, from mild to severe, such as lack of or delay in talking, little or no eye contact and repetitive use of motor mannerisms like stimming, which is repetitive hand movement followed with eye contact on the hands. ASD affects verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as social interaction.

“They are all unique,” says Terri. “This is the first time many of our employees had the opportunity to work with individuals with autism.”

Terri and Paul’s son, Bayley, had sensory issues and challenging behaviors that were a result of not being able to communicate. Bayley, now 18, was diagnosed with ASD at 2 1/2, but many with autism aren’t diagnosed or even identified until they’re in school or later.

Blake Shannon, Micah Krumpack, Matthew Bruce and Joey Burger headed to Contemporary Cabinetry’s woodshop internship from noon to 2:30 p.m. each Friday for 12 weeks. Jordan and Harrison Bird worked one-on-one with each student, helping them with different projects like making planter boxes, bird houses and cutting boards.

“We’re going to focus on inclusion in the workplace. It’s needed and rewarding for both the employer and the employees, and it’s the right thing to do. Someone needs to be the role model and lead the way. It will require patience, organization and putting the right tools in place for success,” says Terri.

Jordan and other employees created visual binders with the students’ daily schedule, provided a description of the shop tools and a schedule of their work day, and gave the students their own shop gloves and tools. All four had a time card to clock in each day.

“Giving students an opportunity out of their normal wheelhouse is powerful and impactful,” says Elizabeth Wietmarschen, Children’s Home lead intervention specialist, who accompanied the students to Contemporary Cabinetry each day. “They may not want to be woodworkers, but who doesn’t need to use a power tool once in a while? I was beyond excited.”

Wietmarschen works with students who have finished their high school course requirements but haven’t received their diploma, helping them enhance life and communication skills, and preparing them for college or life after school.

“I think that when you take an experience – generalizing the skills, work on asking for help, talking to co-workers – we got to do it in a natural environment. It enhances their experience,” she says.

For Jordan, the internship program was a learning experience. His 9-year-old son, Wyatt, has autism.

“As they get older, there’s much less opportunity. It can be isolating, ‘Hey, you’re on your own.’ These individuals need motivation like all of us to become self-sufficient and that’s why employment is so important. There are other programs, but many of them do not provide an income,” he says.

The Hogans believe that small businesses need to do more to include the disabled population in the local workforce. In May 2016, Terri and Mike Ames, a part-time employee with Down syndrome, traveled to the District of Columbia, to speak to the House Small Business Committee.

“Small businesses hire 75 percent of the population, but very few of them look at people with special needs,” says Terri.

The Hogans want to continue to include employees with disabilities. Contemporary Cabinetry, which has 70 to 75 employees, recently hired Blake from the internship program and his father, Mark Shannon, part-time. Mark will work with Blake as his job coach.

“We’re not just focused on individuals with autism. We acknowledge and will hire all individuals with special abilities,” Terri says.

This is the 27-year-old Ames’ first job. He has worked as a machine operator for two years and has carved a niche for himself in the shop, says Jordan. His father recently wrote a letter to Contemporary Cabinetry telling the company that to his son, it’s more than a job, he feels accepted and valued.

Ames was hired through Starfire Cincinnati, another nonprofit that the Hogans have worked with that wants to decrease isolation and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. Terri is also on the board of other nonprofits, including Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled, and will have Emeritus status with Visionaries + Voices, which provides artistic, cultural and professional opportunities for artists with disabilities.

This fall, Paul and Terri will chair Stepping Stones, a nonprofit promoting inclusion and independence, improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities. In conjunction, Contemporary Cabinetry’s “woodshop workshop” internship starts again in the fall and will nearly double in size.

“This program was successful because everyone worked as a team. They were proud to help. The employees were excited every Friday morning. It was just so positive,” says Terri.

Wietmarschen is also excited about the program and hopes other small businesses find a way to promote inclusion.

“The more people hear about this … we hope they jump on board to give these students an opportunity they don’t normally get,” she says. “This is such a good example for small businesses and large companies. I’m excited to see the ripple effect of that.”

Contemporary Cabinetry also donates excess materials to groups like May We Help that builds items for people with disabilities and special needs, as well as giving extra lumber to Easter Seals.

But the Hogans want to do more.

Terri and Paul want to build an addition, a separate space on their property, where they could hire supervisors to teach more people with disabilities a trade and daily life skills to use in the workplace.

“The need is high. Our goal and mission is to focus on where these individuals with unique abilities can be hired and become employed. I hope by setting this example, other companies will get on board,” says Terri.

 

Contemporary Cabinetry East is located at 8960 Rossash Road, Blue Ash, OH 45236. For more information, call 513.791.9115.