Meet Al White + A QC Day on the Slopes

Welcome to QC Enews Empowerment

It’s going to stop snowing eventually, right? 

We’re supposed to get another one-to-three inches of the white stuff today, and for all the challenges the weather has caused, it’s also meant optimum conditions at Arizona Snowbowl. Scroll down to check out a video of Quality Connections employees exploring adaptive skiing and snowboarding down the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks.

We start this edition by shining a spotlight on one of our amazing board leaders, the inimitable Al White. He’s a former Flagstaff Vice Mayor, powerhouse advocate for those with disabilities, and constant champion of Quality Connections and our mission. If you do not already know Al, you are in for a treat.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Enews Empowerment.

– Armando Bernasconi,
Co-Founder and CEO

Leadership Spotlight: Al White
'Our People Are Hungry for Work, for Success, for Inclusion'

If he hadn’t run out of money while traveling from Massachusetts to Los Angeles in April 1976, we might never have known and benefited from the leadership of our Board Chairman Al White.

Al and a buddy were on an adventure to see America that Bicentennial year. They crisscrossed the country with the goal of meeting up with another friend who had gotten Al a job on the TV show Laverne & Shirley.

“I had 800 bucks – we thought we were rich,” Al recalled.

Neither actually made it to Hollywood that year. Al’s buddy ran out of money in Colorado, but Al managed to make it to the Grand Canyon before his $800 was gone. He began working in hospitality at the National Park and, unlike most workers, stayed past the busy summer season. That quickly put him on the path to hotel management, and he became the hotel manager overseeing more than 1,000 guest rooms.

There was a marriage and two children, then a divorce and a girlfriend who was adamant about not living in the Grand Canyon. The couple traveled to San Francisco, which was too expensive, and returned to Flagstaff, where Al became the Assistant GM at Little America. One night he saw a story about an entrepreneur in Phoenix who had started a business collecting recyclable waste and was inspired to start a similar business in Flagstaff.

By 1996, Al was the co-owner of a successful recycling enterprise that collected cardboard – keeping it out of local landfills – and sold it overseas. Business was booming and Al was thrilled to be leading a company that was not only making money, but also helping the environment.

But that year, everything changed.

One evening, while he was crouched down looking for a hydraulic leak in the front of the company’s garbage truck, a worker accidentally lowered the vehicle, causing an 8-inch bar to strike Al between his shoulder blades, snapping his back, and leaving him a paraplegic with no feeling below his upper chest. He was 44 at the time.

Al spent six weeks in the hospital, unsure of what he would do next – or even where he would live. His friends came through, however, raising funds with a benefit concert and finding him a place that was accessible, affordable, and close to the medical treatment he would need.

Al’s injury made him acutely aware of the challenges many people with disabilities face, which led him to become a passionate advocate for the disabled population.

When he saw that the parking structure for Historic Downtown’s Heritage Square wasn’t ADA-compliant, he brought up the issue with the City officials. Ultimately, four van-accessible disabled spots were secured in a nearby lot across from Charly’s Pub and Grill. “It showed me what one person could get done by speaking up,” he said.

Al’s work as an advocate and interest in the community led him to seek election to the Flagstaff City Council. He served for 12 years on the Council, including four years as Vice Mayor. Just being elected, he said, advanced the cause for individuals with disabilities in Flagstaff.

“The day after the election, they had to make City Hall accessible,” he said. “They installed power doors and lower door knobs.”

In addition to advocating for disabled individuals, Al says he feels his biggest personal accomplishment while on the Council was helping establish a business incubator in Flagstaff. 

While on the City’s Disability Awareness Commission, Al met Armando and Melissa Bernasconi, who were trying to form a nonprofit that would give those with disabilities greater opportunity for employment and independence. Al became the first Board Chairman of Quality Connections. He served in that role until 2014 and recently returned to it.

“The work that we do at Quality Connections, the things that we accomplish go beyond the traditional concepts of success,” he said. “Quality Connections embraces the non-financial rewards of employment, like inclusion. Our people are hungry for work, for success, for inclusion. It’s so much more than cashing a paycheck.”

And that desire to be part of a workplace and be more independent makes Quality Connection members highly desirable employees, he adds.

“Once the training is accomplished, you can see the work they can do, and you’ve got someone who is going to last in that job because they want to work so much,” he said. “That’s the value our folks bring to the workplace.”

Al said one of the keys to the success Quality Connections has enjoyed over the past 24 years is a business model that doesn’t rely too heavily on any one type of funding. Quality Connections receives revenues from grants, donations, purchases from QC Office, and more. 

“All those revenue streams have not only kept us alive, they’ve also allowed us to rise to the top in terms of the services we provide,” he said. “We aim to be the best in the business and that attitude helps guarantee success.”

Another reason for Quality Connections’ longevity is the people who work there.

“They’ve assembled a great team,” he said. “Armando has the respect and loyalty of his department heads, and they are genuinely impressed with each other’s progress;  there’s no backbiting or competition. Each person is encouraged to dream and make their department better. I don’t know if you can teach that quality, but Armando has it and he’s built a great crew.”

'The Mountain is Calling'

Recently, three Quality Connections employees traveled to High Country Adaptive Sports. Watch as Tonnya, Izzy, and John ski and snowboard the slopes at Arizona Snowbowl with a little help and some adaptive equipment.

We need Quality Connections . . . like you!

You can help individuals with disabilities become independent and productive members of our community. There are many way to be a ‘Quality Connection’ and get involved and all of them are important:

Every purchase from QC Office equals employment and job training opportunities for a person with disabilities.

Enable a person with disabilities to become a productive member of our community.

You’ll be doing good. Plus, you’ll get a dollar-for-dollar credit on your AZ state taxes (up to $800!)

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