By Christopher Pearson
Alfred was smiling from ear to ear as he received his first pay check. Value Store It Self Storage Vice President, Bryan Lekas asked why he was so happy. Alfred said, “This is the first time I’ve ever been paid, and I’m very happy.”
“I saw things in a different light after that,” said Lekas. “Seeing how happy he was to receive a paycheck, put things in a new perspective for me. That moment changed Alfred’s life, and it changed mine as well.”
Value Store It Founder and President, Todd Ruderman had the same realization 10 years earlier. Since then, he has been committed to creating positions for employees with special needs at each of his company’s locations in South Florida and Boston.
He has encouraged his fellow business partners to employ adults with special needs in businesses such as apartment management, restaurants, law firms, etc.
“Everyone has a connection to someone with a disability, either directly or through a friend or business associate,” explained Ruderman.
“When I learned The Best Buddies Jobs program secures jobs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, allowing them to earn income and pay taxes to support themselves, I contacted them immediately.
Ruderman says any investment he made in hiring a candidate from Best Buddies was rewarded tenfold, not necessarily in money, but through higher employee morale and greater customer satisfaction. “Most of all, we are repaid by the feeling we all get when we see how happy these employees are to be working,” he added.
Best Buddies International is a global non-profit organization founded by Anthony Shriver that offers one-to-one friendship, employment and leadership development programs nationally and internationally to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism, down syndrome, traumatic brain injury and other disabilities.
Ruderman and Lekas, employed Ramon, a charismatic young man with autism spectrum disorder. After an interview, Ramon was offered a job as a part-time customer service employee. Eight years later, Ramon serves as assistant manager of Value Store It’s Doral location. Over the years, he has saved enough money to buy his own car and support himself independently.
“I’ve rented over 400 units, 402 to be exact, although I do anything that’s needed here,” Ramon cheerfully explained. “I’m very happy to be working for Value Store It.
“People with special needs and intellectual disabilities make terrific employees,” Lekas added. “They are extremely punctual and show great attention to detail.”
Ruderman says these employees have been a real asset to his company and sets his company apart from the competitors. “Our tenants really appreciate it. And, our other employees see how happy they are to be at work. This changes their perspective and keeps a happy environment at Value Store It amongst all employees.”
Value Store It hires employees with special needs through Best Buddies. The company also works closely with other organizations that serve the special needs population, such as the University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, Friendship Circle, YMCA and the Dan Marino Foundation.
According to Best Buddies, the organization’s Jobs Program focuses on finding employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, allowing them to earn an income, pay taxes and continuously and independently support themselves. The program seeks to place individuals in jobs that go beyond the scope of stereotypical jobs in which they might usually be placed and match the job seeker’s interests and talents.
When Value Store It announces an opening at one of its new locations, a Best Buddies job coach begins pre-screening eligible candidates. The coach brings the candidate to an interview with Lekas and the Value Store It manager. If a formal job offer is made, the employee and job coach return to the business for training to begin. The Best Buddies job coach is the point of contact for the employee and the Value Store It team. If there is an issue at work or more training is needed, the coach is available to assist.
In 2018, Value Store It was presented with the 2018 Employer of the Year Award by Best Buddies International.
Lekas loves hearing from the employee’s parents. “They are overly appreciative and can’t thank us enough. One mother said ‘without his job, my son would be at home during the day playing video games,’” he explained.
Ruderman is proud to say, “the majority of these employees are still employed with Value Store It. Our employees with special needs not only keep the environment cheerful, but they are incredibly reliable. You couldn’t ask for a better worker,” he explained.
Ruderman encourages employers to do something that makes a difference in the life of person with special needs or intellectual disability. “Eighty percent of the special needs population is not employed, though many could be,” Ruderman said. “They’re terrific employees, and the benefits of having one of these employees is going to repay you dividends worth 10 times the investment. And Best Buddies can show you how.”
Value Store It Self Storage is South Florida’s largest, privately owned self-storage company, providing safe and clean places for residential and business customers to store their belongings. The company has 16 locations in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties and another opening in Palm Beach County in 2019. For more information, visit www.valuestoreit.com or www.bestbuddies.org.
Value Store It is a committed partner to the Best Buddies Job Program. For more information visit bestbuddies.org.
The benefits to hiring talent from the Best Buddies Jobs program are multiple. Most important among them is offering an individual the opportunity to demonstrate their value and potential. To ensure a successful placement, the Best Buddies Jobs program provides supports to the employer and participant for the duration of their employment.