By: H. A. Fisher
When he was 38, Nathan Brown developed glaucoma and eventually lost his sight.
“The day I woke up and found that I couldn’t see again, it was a hurtful feeling and I didn't know what to do,” he said. “I was saying to myself, ‘Why me? Why me?’”
Brown retired from his job at Trident Technical College but still wanted to work and remain active.
He was familiar with Palmetto Goodwill through its newspaper and TV ads so he connected with the organization and filled out a job application. Brown was eager to work and willing to take any position.
He was hired as a cook at the Naval Weapons Station, where Palmetto Goodwill manages the kitchen, serving 5,000 people a day. Brown cuts up vegetables and does his work as well anyone with sight, he said.
“Doing things other people can do makes me feel good,” Brown said.
And this steady job restored Brown’s dream of opening a catering company when he retires.
“I thought that hope was gone,” he said. “But I think that hope could still be there.”
Goodwill Industries of Lower SC has been part of the Ability One Program since 1982, when Goodwill received its first contract award stocking groceries at the old Navy Base and Naval Weapons Station.
Some 75 percent of the people working in the kitchen at the Naval Weapons Station have a disability so this is a chance for them to be employed and productive.
Plus, research finds employing people with developmental and intellectual disabilities isn’t just a good business practice but can be financially beneficial as well. A study by research firm i4cp in conjunction with Best Buddies International found three-quarters of employers rated their employees with disabilities a good to very good on most performance indicators, such as work quality and productivity.
The study also noted that “one-third of high-performance organizations – based on measures of profitability, market share, revenue growth and customer satisfaction over time – said the experience exceeded expectations.”
In addition to benefiting businesses – both in terms of business success and social responsibility – the employees benefit as well.
“Goodwill provides opportunities to those with disabilities and other barriers, in an effort to improve their lives,” explained Matthew Spath, marketing manager at Palmetto Goodwill. “To the people working there, it’s about being given the opportunity.”
He gives the example of a woman who struggled with making eye contact and talking to people. She started working in the kitchen and has progressed to the front line, serving desserts.
“She’s looking people in the eye, saying ‘Hello,’ and it’s helping her overcome that barrier,” Spath said.