Jennifer Erickson and Beth Behal have been the co-owners of Camille’s Sidewalk Café in Sioux Falls for the last seven years. The door to hiring people with disabilities was opened for them by an employment specialist from Southeastern Behavioral HealthCare. Beth said, “We didn’t seek out people with disabilities for employees, they came to us. Instead of thinking why it would not work, we asked ourselves, why wouldn’t this work?” Since Beth was a former teacher, she was comfortable with diversity and not excluding anyone from being involved. This carried over to her management career with the restaurant. Beth and Jennifer try to have a balanced workforce and keep a very open mind regarding hiring employees. Their philosophy is that they have specific jobs for people to do and they want to know if the employee can do the job. They focus on the person’s abilities and what they are able to do.
To make the transition smooth, a job coach assures Beth and Jennifer that they will be there when needed. This support helps get the employee started on the right track. Some people start on a trial basis to determine if they like the job. Others will do an assessment to help Beth and Jennifer know if the person has the ability to work in the restaurant. Camille’s employs 18-20 people, presently 5 of the employees are people with disabilities who work at varying times, from 11 to 30 hours per week. The employees are responsible for busing tables, washing dishes, doing prep work and running the cash register. Talking with Beth and Jennifer, it is obvious they know which duties each of their employees are good at but will always allow them to try new tasks as well. In looking back over the years, Beth and Jennifer note that the tenure is longer with the employees with disabilities and they are often times more dependable than other workers. Beth commented that the employees with disabilities are so thankful to have a job and enjoy coming to work every day.
Beth and Jennifer don’t hide the fact that they hire people with disabilities. They feel this helps all the employees accept each other and get along. Beth said that if there is an employee that does not accept a co-worker, that would be a clue that they would not treat the customers well either. In 2004, Camille’s received the Governors Award for Outstanding Employer of the Year. After being notified that they would be getting this award, Beth and Jennifer said “There’s an award for this? For us, it just seems like the right thing to do.”
For people with disabilities, Beth and Jennifer would tell them not to give up and get discouraged when they don’t get hired for a job right away. Even when there is an employer who is not open minded, it is important to continue to search for a job. Their advice is to rely on and work with the support people as well as utilizing the resources in the community.
Beth and Jennifer said they would like other employers to give hiring people with diverse backgrounds and disabilities a chance; be open-minded and realize that there is support available for employees and employers. Employers could go to another business and see how they incorporate employees with disabilities into their work environment. Beth and Jennifer said hiring a person with a disability does not take more time but sometimes it takes more patience. Their philosophy is to think outside the box about how to make it work. Both Beth and Jennifer are willing to talk to employer groups about their experiences as a way to get more employers to be aware of the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.