October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, is a month like any other for Bobby Mock, who is devoted to his job at the Yard House restaurant in Sunrise, FL.
Bobby and three other students with autism find purpose and rewards through their jobs rolling silverware into napkins for guests through the restaurant’s partnership with Arc Broward, a nonprofit that helps people with developmental disabilities.
“Bobby’s our all-star,” said General Manager Karol Acosta. “He comes in every day with a huge smile and gets to work. He communicates well with us, letting us know when he needs more linen or silverware. He has become very independent, and it has been a pleasure to watch him progress.”
Bobby, Sabrina Gehres, Claude Sinord and Natalie Roche learned to roll silver during culinary training through Arc Broward’s training program, Arc Educates. The four joined the Yard House team when the restaurant opened in Dec. 2017. They visit in pairs and work about three hours several days a week. “I love my job,” Bobby said.
The partnership began after Karol and Director of Operations Mike Hood, who wanted to give back to the community, learned about the group and its culinary training. They interviewed the four and quickly hired them. “We thought they would be an awesome fit, and they have been,” Karol said.
“We wanted to create an environment where their skills would be useful and they would get rewarded,” she said. “Rolling silverware is a start, and we hope to grow the program to other positions later on.”
Marcus Amos, business relations manager for Arc Broward, said the school values the partnership. “A lot of companies, as part of their corporate responsibility, say they are trying to create change through inclusion and diversity, but Darden takes action. Karol and her Yard House team are just fantastic, and they want the team members to do well, providing suggestions for improvement and helping them grow.”
The Yard House team really walks the walk. Karol and 19 other team members, including Bobby and Claude, participated in an autism walk sponsored by another nonprofit, Autism Speaks, on Sept. 29. They raised more than $700.
The Bahama Breeze restaurant in Pembroke Pines, FL, has been involved in a similar arrangement for four years. The restaurant’s general manager then, Bo Odom, now a director of operations, hired three teens from Divine Academy of Broward and Miramar High School as well as an adult from The Dan Marino Foundation to wash dishes, roll silver and bus tables.
Bo said Server Patricia Fentner, who has a child with a disability, helps mentor the four team members. “Many people have a misconception that disabled young adults are not able to perform tasks adequately, when in reality they are some of the hardest-working, most loyal and trustworthy team members,” she said. “They have been able to excel beyond expectations.”
Bo agreed. “The work helps these young people with autism develop confidence and social skills, and they do well. All the team members take time to make them feel like a part of the restaurant.”