Aaron Rudolph’s drive to work from his home in West Hartford to the Walgreen’s Distribution Center in Windsor is usually uneventful. Having special needs and landing a meaningful job often poses more of a challenge.
Rudolph is one of the lucky ones. A story in the Hartford Courant five years ago about a yet-to-be-built Walgreens facility, a meeting with a job counselor at the Bureau of Rehab Services in Hartford, and a drop of good fortune were all part of the young man’s journey toward meaningful employment.
After graduating from high school, Rudolph began a one-year food service training program at Manchester Community College. He was then connected to a job counselor, which led to some work in food services. A job counselor was impressed with his work and suggested that Rudolph might be a good candidate for the Walgreen’s program. Following an interview to assess his job and social skills, and a nine-week, eight-hour a day unpaid training program in different areas of potential employment, followed by nine-week training stints, Rudolph was ultimately hired by Walgreens.
The 24-year old West Hartford resident, who loves the Beatles, Beach Boys and You Tube, has been to Israel four times, and regularly attends The Emanuel Synagogue, recently celebrated his nine-month anniversary as a Walgreens’ employee. While initially hired to work in the AKL division (where he essentially moved quickly up and down the aisles filling orders), he was soon switched to “detrash,” where he rapidly opens boxes and transfers items to plastic bins and places them on a conveyer belt.
Rudolph works 40 hours per week, and has full benefits – like sick time, medical, dental, a 401K and stock options, and soon he will be eligible for two weeks paid vacation.
“When you think of people with cognitive disabilities, they are usually involved in menial jobs or they work in workshops-they often bag groceries or work a few hours a week. And you always worry about how secure the job is-especially during an economic downturn. At Walgreen’s, Aaron has the potential to be there a long time,” reports the young man’s mother, Alison Rudolph, who explains that her son has mild to high functioning autism.
Her son, she says, couldn’t be more proud of his work noting that he “always speaks up and enunciates” when asked about his work” and “never complains when he is asked to do mandatory overtime.”
Rudoph is, perhaps, a bit more candid in describing his work. “It is nice, but it has its tough moments!” he says. “Sometimes the boxes I open are pretty hard. When I open the plastic wrapping, sometimes it goes all over the floor-especially with the huge fan going!”
But he does enjoy the camaraderie of his fellow workers. “I get along with them, I have lunch with them, and we sometimes talk about our weekends,” he says. “I feel great working full time and I feel good about the job!”
“Aaron is a great employee,” Joe Wendover, Walgreens’ outreach manager at the Windsor Distribution Center, told the Ledger. “Hiring Aaron helps to show other employers that it is a good thing and the right thing to do.”
Walgreens invites other companies to tour their distribution center to see that it is truly possible to train and hire people with disabilities. “It is unfortunate that some employers can’t see past a disability,” says Wendover, who will participate in a panel on vocational training and employment at Advance: The Ruderman Jewish Special Needs Funders Conference to be held in New York City on Oct. 20 to discuss funding for special needs programs in the Jewish community (see story).
Alison Rudoph and her husband, Jeff, are impressed with Walgreens’ commitment to hiring people with disabilities.
“In the warehouse, there are people with many kinds of disabilities. I have seen people in wheelchairs, people who are hearing impaired, and many others. As long as you can do the job, you will be employed there. They feel very fortunate that Aaron is part of the Walgreens family. “