True Work Ethic
Tyler Levy Has Overcome Many Challenges to Become a Successful Employee
What keeps people coming back to a restaurant? Besides the food, neighborly atmosphere and hospitality, visitors look for a little extra attention, care and conversation from some very dedicated employees.
According to Christine Stringer, manager of McAllister’s Deli on Breckinridge Lane in Louisville, the eatery has been hiring people with disabilities for the past 10 years – although the establishment doesn’t actually work with a placement organization. Knowing its history of hiring and helping those with disabilities, both parents and job coaches from local groups like Dreams with Wings and the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation don’t hesitate to connect with McAllister’s.
Parents can get their kids involved with a vocational rehab facility, where job coaches will teach them about interviewing and take them to an actual job interview. McAllister’s Deli welcomes job coaches to visit and help employees if needed.
Stringer’s store currently employs seven disabled workers, and she says they love what they do.
Many of these employees were working at the location when Stringer took over several years ago, but at that time they were not often given opportunities to take on certain tasks and learn new skills. Now, they can be found successfully running cash registers, delivering food, refilling beverages, preparing food and engaging with guests.
“The guests that frequent our location are very happy that we have many great people with disabilities that are not only employed, but have a work environment that treats them as equals,” Stringer says.
According to Stringer, there are participants in these programs who
now have a voice in shaping the future treatment of people with disabilities.
“One of my employees has gone to Washington, D.C., to advocate and speak for a group called Y.E.S. [Young Empowered Self-Advocates],” she says.
Tyler Levy has been with McAllister’s for more than five years. Last year he went to Washington, D.C., to speak at the National Conference on Independent Living. Levy tears up with pride when speaking of Y.E.S., and of going into Jefferson County high schools to talk to students with disabilities.
“The kids listen, pay attention and join in,” he says. “It’s amazing.”
Levy has spoken publicly in Frankfort and believes disability advocacy is the most important thing he can do.
“A person with a disability – that’s who I am,” he says. “But I don’t let it define me. I just want to make this a better place for persons with disabilities.”
Levy prefers not to use the phrase “special needs” when referring to himself and others.
“We are just out there trying to make it through,” Levy says. “I prefer ‘a person with a disability.’ Just simple and straight.”
Levy says much of what he has learned has come from the opportunities his job provides.
“It’s rare to find a boss who really understands you, embraces you and cares – and cares about persons with disabilities, and really just wants the best,” he says.
Christina Hopewell, Levy’s job coach from Dreams with Wings, says he has come a long way since he began working.
“I used to be this guy that would stand around and look out the window to see who’s coming,” Levy says. “Now I’m just working and having fun. I couldn’t enjoy it any more and I couldn’t be happier.”
Levy’s favorite day at work is Free Tea Day. He enjoys the challenge of the day, mostly because of all the people who come in.
“I don’t mean challenge in a hard way – I mean fun,” he says.
Levy says he would like to remain at work to become a mentor for other disabled people. He enjoys being an advocate for people with disabilities. Levy even became a chairperson for an advocacy group with the Statewide Council for Vocational Rehabilitation.
Levy says working at McAllister’s has improved his social skills and connection to the local community. He has low muscle tone due to Williams Syndrome, and working has helped build the muscles in his hands through ringing out dish towels and carrying cups of tea. He can now carry one cup in each hand, while he could only carry one cup at a time before he started working.
Levy also used to struggle with depth perception. Hopewell and Levy figured out a way to prevent Levy from overfilling drinks by using a line on the store’s cups as a marker.
“Without the opportunity to work here, he would not have had the chance to build up the strength in his hands and learn all he has learned,” Hopewell says.
Stringer says she loves teaching her disabled employees about what they are expected to do every day, just as she would any other person.
“I love to teach them new things, which empowers them to be the great employees they are,” she says. “The thing that most of our employees with disabilities want to have is a fair shot and independence. We give them that.”