Linda Speldos is a Goodwill employment specialist for people with disabilities. Her passion is finding the right jobs for her clients and then helping them succeed. She couldn’t stop thinking about Devin, 22.
Two days after he was born, Devin was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a condition that causes weakness on the right side of his body. But “disability” is not his favorite word. “I think I have an ability that hasn’t been known yet to mankind,” he said, describing himself as “strong, really talkative, really sociable.”
Devin participated in Goodwill Keystone Area’s personal work assistance training program at the Goodwill store in Regency, Pennsylvania, and Speldos knew Devin’s spirit and work ethic would be an asset to an employer. So when a position opened up close to his home, they both were excited. A local landscaping company was hiring for a position that included filling 100-pound bags of gravel and stone. Outdoors. Exactly where Devin dreamed of working.
“With his determination, he got the job,” Speldos said. “He was so highly motivated. He walked down there, and they were so impressed with his motivation.” It was a great match. Every day, he walked the 12 minutes from his house to his job.
The new job required Devin to hold open a bag while shoveling materials like sand and stone into it. It was hard. He could do it, but it wasn’t as easy as it could have been.
Part of Speldos’ job is to accompany her clients to their new jobs to help them learn the ropes. As she watched Devin battle the bag, she knew she could find something to make that work easier.
“I thought, ‘Well, I can go get a leaf bag opener at the hardware store,’ – but it didn’t fit the bag,” she explained. She reached out to Goodwill’s assistive technology program, and Jennifer Radick responded immediately, requesting pictures and video of the job that needed to be done.
Then Radick does what comes naturally – she brought her work home with her. Radick’s husband, Dave, often helps her devise accommodations for clients. His brother has Down syndrome and autism, so helping folks succeed at the job they want has a special place in his heart. “Why shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity to love where they work?” he said.
He has worked at Lowe’s for nine years, currently as a market product service manager. “There are a lot of people out there who need help,” Radick said. “This kid could be my kid.”
Radick called on his colleagues for help, and the team responded quickly, with multiple store managers brainstorming to find a solution.
Joe Hoffmann, a Lowe’s employee for almost 12 years and store manager in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, came up with the winning blueprint. “I also have a child who has special needs, and I’m lucky enough to work for a company whose values and purpose mirror mine,” Hoffmann said. “I look at all the people who helped (my son) and the people who helped me help him, and this was my opportunity to give back.”
“I also have a child who has special needs, and I’m lucky enough to work for a company whose values and purpose mirror mine. I look at all the people who helped (my son) and the people who helped me help him, and this was my opportunity to give back.”— Joe Hoffman, Lowe’s store manager
The challenge resonated with Hoffmann’s market director, too. “I have a son who has autism, so it really connected with me,” said Tom Porcelli, a Lowe’s employee for 13 years. “I look at it as a life lesson. I’m trying to teach my son about perseverance. Nothing is going to be able to defeat him as long as he can set his mind to it.”
Within days, they had invented a tool using PVC pipe that holds a bag open for Devin but also won’t tip over once the bag begins to be filled and weighed down. It took time, materials and elbow grease, but the team didn’t care.
“This was just a bunch of people getting together and doing the right thing for someone,” Porcelli said. “At the end of the day, what are we going to be remembered for? You can go home feeling proud of yourself.”
Speldos reports that Devin’s productivity increased by 75 percent, and now he can bag sand and stone at the same rate as his fellow employees.
“I’m grateful for what Lowe’s did for me,” he said. As for sticking with a job despite challenges: “It gives me some self-pride to do that. It’s better to try to do something and fail than not try to do anything at all.”
“He carries himself with such pride,” shared his grandmother (“call me ‘Grandma,’ ” she said). “You don’t even notice his physical limitations.”
Devin has advice for anyone with a job in his heart but challenges in sight: “If you want it, you need to go after it,” he said. “And if you can’t get that goal or that job, you need to try to find a way to get in from the basic level and work your way up there.”
“If you want it, you need to go after it.”— Devin, 22