This is the time of year where I start thinking about futures for students, as graduations pop up like springtime flowers all around my home in Western Pennsylvania. It’s tempting to think about what my son with special needs won’t graduate and go on to do, but I’ve found little value in this kind of pessimism. Instead, I take the words of a good friend to heart, and try to “be the change I want to see in the world.”
Year round, we open the offices of Abram’s Nation and invite students from local life skills classes to join our workplace. About once a week, students and teachers roll in to our office for the afternoon. We save all sorts of tasks for them, like sorting zippers or packaging up the masks we’ve been selling during COVID-19. For a few hours, our offices bustle with the energy of these kids as they set about--and invariably accomplish--whatever task we’ve saved just for them.
I think this is important because it’s a way to give kids meaningful work. They become part of our team, working out how to meet a goal. We provide a glimpse into life after high school, and also a way for kids who are so often overlooked to be part of our community. Given the nature of our business, it’s a natural fit and part of our implied mission. But that’s not the reason we do it.
Our staff lights up when it’s a visit day from our life skills kids. Everyone on our regularly-scheduled team is a little more engaged and a little more “on it.” It’s good business for our staff to understand and have relationships with our customers--or at least kids who overcome barriers, even if they aren’t sleep related.
And while you can argue that opening our doors is a fit for us but not other businesses...well, I’ll argue right back. I feel every business has a place for people who don’t “fit the mould.” And finding it takes some time and a few key relationships with local schools. It’s just a little effort that will produce big returns.
My favorite graduations this time of year are the kids who build skills in my office, and move on and find a place in the workforce. I fervently hope, over time, a few of our kids will become more permanent members of our own workforce. That hasn’t happened...yet...but when it does, it will be a true graduation to celebrate!