This story, written by Cyndi O’Bannon, Fruits of Employment (FOE) Disability Consultant*, illustrates the company’s initiative to employ individuals with autism and other disabilities at competitive agricultural sites. APSE’s HR Connect (offering consultation services to help businesses reach out to and partner with one of the strongest labor and customer pools in the country: the disability community) is the lead disability consulting entity for FOE. For more information about APSE’s HR Connect Program please contact James Emmett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fruits of Employment (FOE): A Farm Manager’s Journey Through Disability
by: Cyndi O’Bannon, FOE Disability Consultant
While John M. was lying in his hospital bed, he began to think about how an accident that occurred away from work would impact his life including his career. John M. is the Manager at Hampton Farming which operates the White Hills Vineyard. White Hills is a key site for the Fruits of Employment (FOE) initiative and John has been instrumental in supporting workers with autism & other disabilities within their culture. John felt relief in knowing that he worked with a company like Hampton Farming that not only valued, but also invested in diversity. He felt safe that he could return to work after his accident and be accepted and supported to continue in his capacity as the farm manager.
How has this experience changed his perspective? “I am more open,” John stated.
He now understands the struggles that people confront when they are faced with a disability. All the things he used to take for granted like getting up and getting ready for work in the morning, previously a 20-minute routine, now can take him up to 2 hours. His body is different; life is different.
Hampton Farming has always accommodated its staff, but this further opened their eyes to the reality that there is more to life than “the job.” John was supported to get the tools he needed to do his job, and key to that was a truck with a wheelchair lift.
John shared that it reduced his stress to know that he could return to work and that he would be met with open arms. Hampton Farming’s willingness to give him a chance allowed him to get back into the swing of life. He attributes his rapid recovery being able to return to work with a focus and purpose. Having a supportive employer made that possible.
John says, “Having a job – getting up, getting going, motivates me to get my day started.” He feels that if he didn’t have this job, it would be easy to just stay in bed longer each day.
Does John see himself as disabled? “Some days, yes; some days, no.” On the days when he is busy and has a full plate of expectations he does not feel disabled. He did say that he does not consider himself as having a disability. He is able to do what he needs to do, but he now has to do it differently.
This experience has also taught him about the generosity of others to help and their willingness to help. He says that is rare for a day to go by without someone asking him if he needs any help. He said it is common for people to approach him as he is exiting his truck with the installed lift, to ask him questions about it, and share their stories with him.
He said that in the past he would have felt self-conscious at the idea of having to park in an accessible parking space, but now, he says he does not. He stated, “This is who I am. I have a better life and job than most people.”
John is grateful for the community he lives in, saying that is very tight knit, with many people showing up at the school fundraiser that was held for his benefit. He also mentioned the faithfulness and support of his friends and family.
When I asked him what impact an initiative like FOE had on the lives of people with disabilities he said, “It opens doors to opportunity. Before I would question a person’s ability.” When asked about hiring people with disabilities he said, “Don’t be afraid to try it, they are just people.”
John shares that he has total appreciation for a company that is willing to invest in the autism & disability community. He reminds us to keep an open mind because “life throws us curve balls and that it is not what you are given, but what you do with it once you are in the situation that matters.”
*Fruits of Employment (FOE) is a first-of-its-kind initiative that strategically employs workers with autism and other disabilities at competitive agricultural sites such as apple orchards and vineyards. The visionary behind the initiative is Heather Davis, Senior Managing Director, Chief Investment Officer – Private Markets at TIAA-CREF. Heather combined her personal and professional experiences to develop an initiative that builds a new source of workers for farm managers operating TIAA-CREF agricultural investments while opening up opportunities for job seekers with disabilities who want to work in the agricultural industry.