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Breaking Barriers by Baking Breadsticks

October 30, 2014

By: Alex Aragon, General Manager, Olive Garden

Breaking Barriers by Baking Breadsticks

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If you’ve eaten lunch at the Irving Olive Garden recently, please allow me to brag about the man who probably made your breadsticks.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and Rufus Hamilton personifies how community partnerships can help people overcome barriers to find meaningful work.

Unemployed since 2007, Rufus is now an integral member of our restaurant team and an inspiring presence in the kitchen. He just needed encouragement and training to start a new chapter in life.

I’ve seen firsthand how the public, private and nonprofit sectors can work together to strengthen our economy, one career at a time. Rufus is a perfect example.

Over the past two years, Olive Garden has built a strong relationship with the Dallas-based Citizens Development Center (CDC), which assists adults who have intellectual, mental and physical disabilities in achieving employment. Our team members enjoy mentoring CDC clients and showing them the ropes of a fast-paced environment. Understanding how workers with disabilities can positively contribute to our restaurant, we turned to CDC’s Employment Placement Program.

Together with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, CDC helped us find the ideal candidate for expediting our Pronto Lunch and baking breadsticks – a crucial role in the success of any Olive Garden. After a few interviews, I knew Rufus was the right man for the job.

With help from CDC, Rufus developed the skills necessary to prepare for the position. And with support from his fellow employees, he was able to overcome the anxiety issues that had traditionally caused him to perform poorly in high-stress situations, preventing him from gaining employment.

Indeed, in the past six months that Rufus has been part of our team, I’ve had the pleasure of watching him improve in many areas, professionally and socially. And in addition to being a valuable employee, I’m honored to call him a friend.

To any business owner or manager who might think that hiring a person with disabilities poses an added burden or expense, I can tell you that’s not the case. But don’t take my word for it. Talk to the experts at CDC to see how hiring people with disabilities can benefit your workforce.

By: Alex Aragon, General Manager, Olive Garden

Alex Aragon is General Manager of the Olive Garden in Irving. For more information on the Citizens Development Center and how to support National Disability Employment Awareness Month, please visit www.CitizensDevelopmentCenter.org.

Pictured: (from left to right) To-Go Specialist Patricia Rodriguez, Alex Aragon and Rufus Hamilton

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