The Green River Area Down Syndrome Association (GRADSA) will unveil a newly formed partnership with Southern Star at this year’s Buddy Walk. The Buddy Walk is scheduled for next weekend, Sept. 28 at 10:30 a.m. at McConnell Plaza.
The goal of the Buddy Walk is to show the community the many abilities and gifts of individuals with Down syndrome, and the partnership with Southern Star further epitomizes that mission. This new partnership provides employment for adults with Down syndrome and seeks to promote inclusion within the workplace.
GRADSA Executive Director Tiffany Thrash is hopeful that this partnership in conjunction with the Buddy Walk will inspire other employers to follow suit.
“This partnership with Southern Star means opportunities are becoming available for our adults with Down syndrome and that more people are embracing differences,” she said. “My hope is that other employers will jump on board and become partners with us as well to provide these opportunities for other adults with Down syndrome.”
Southern Star was first made aware of GRADSA and their efforts at a Chamber of Commerce Rooster Booster breakfast late last year when Ben Trockman of Old National Bank discussed the importance of inclusion in the workplace. Southern Star’s Manager of Business Services Josh Komarek and other Southern Star leaders were so moved by the presentation that they decided to move forward with a partnership.
“It was a very moving and inspiring presentation,” Komarek said. “Our human resources manager was already involved with GRADSA, so he was able to connect all the dots.”
Like Thrash, Komarek is also hopeful that the partnership will inspire other businesses in the community to find the value that individuals with Down syndrome can provide their companies. While it did require some work and organization on the front end, the partnership has already paid for itself in more ways than Komarek envisioned.
“We want to make Southern Star more welcoming to all individuals – there are a lot of skills that we might have been overlooking, so we are committed to this partnership,” he said. “Hopefully, we can inspire other businesses to get on board – we know other employers are watching and evaluating our success.”
Owensboro native and Apollo High School graduate, Colin Powers is the company’s first employee that benefited from the partnership. Powers is a lifelong member of GRADSA and worked for several years at Kroger before gaining employment at Southern Star.
“Southern Star is a neat place to work,” Colin said. “I like everything about working there especially putting the paper in the copy machines.”
Colin’s mother Laura is ecstatic about the partnership and opportunities it provides for her son. She was very complimentary of both Komarek and Southern Star for their efforts.
“I think it’s fabulous,” she said. “It’s been a very positive experience for Colin. They have been so kind to him, and I think this is going to be a good fit for him.”
Colin works three days a week for three hours a day and his tasks generally range from delivering mail and packages to arranging the conference room for various meetings. Employees at Southern Star are very enthusiastic about the partnership and Komarek added that the culture of the office has already benefited from the partnership.
“We wanted to check the pulse of our employees and we were really surprised by how on-board everyone was,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for all parties involved. It’s great to help him, but he helps us more – he has skills and gifts that others don’t. He’s so good with face to face interaction – he never gets tired of it.”
Laura added that she hopes Colin will learn many new skills through this partnership and believes that as more employees get to know Colin, they’re going to realize just how capable he really is.
“He’s a fast learner and I definitely think he enjoys working there,” she said. “It’s giving him an opportunity to learn a lot of new things, especially being part of a team.”
The best example of Colin’s ability came just recently when Komarek was going to be out of the office temporarily. He emailed Colin to inform him that he wasn’t going to be there. He also sent him his instructions for the day, all of which were completed with ease.
“Josh has confidence in him and it shows,” said Laura. “They have a plan in place – they are accommodating him while also using his gifts for the betterment of the company.”
Several of Colin’s peers are also gainfully employed in the community. Laura mentioned MOD Pizza, Lure Seafood and Grille, Cracker Barrel, and Fazolis as establishments in the area that employ individuals with Down syndrome.
Komarek looks forward to attending his first Buddy Walk next weekend with Colin guiding him every step of the way.