When we started Quality Connections in 1999, there was a man who was our inspiration and who represented all we wanted to accomplish. His name was Ben Sutcliffe and he was the college roommate of our co-founder, Armando. He also happened to have Cerebral Palsy, which limited his physical abilities, but not his mental capacity.
Ben had two things he wanted more than anything: a girlfriend and a job. After Quality Connections was formed, Ben became out Webmaster, uploading products onto our website using his communication device.
(He ultimately met and married the love of his life – Armando was his best man).
Ben’s story illustrates why we do what we do at Quality Connections. We sincerely believe that when we empower people with disabilities and remove the barriers that keep them in the workforce, everybody wins. The individuals who find employment, of course, and our community which benefits when they pay taxes. Businesses also benefit: a 2018 study by the business services company Accenture reported that companies that actively seek to employ people with disabilities outperform those that do not with higher revenues and net profits. Other studies indicate that individuals with disabilities stay in their jobs longer and have lower absenteeism than other employees.
Our employment and training services are as unique as the people we are helping. There’s no “cookie cutter” approach, because we are serving people with a wide range of disabilities and life experiences. An individual might have a physical disability, a cognitive or developmental delay, a visual impairment or suffer from anxiety.
Our first step is assessment. What skills does the person have, what work are they interested in and what barriers are keeping them from employment in that field? Do they need help with “soft skills” or additional outside training or a certificate to qualify for a particular line of work? How will they get to the workplace?
Sometimes, our work involves helping clients get over the fears they might have about being in the workplace, such as concerns about being mocked or made to feel uncomfortable about their disability. We dive into why they are worried and how they can deal with that fear or what to do if situations like that arise.
We also help with the nuts-and-bolts typically associated with finding employment: online job searches, how to write a resume and cover letter, what to say in an interview. We hold mock interviews before the real interview and we’ll even accompany them as long as the employer allows us to be there, which they will about 99% of the time.
Once an individual is successfully placed in a job, we follow up every week to check in with that individual and his or her employer to make sure this new relationship is working out.
Some of the people we work with and train may ultimately come to work for Quality Connections. You might have talked to them when you phone our QC Office call center or seen them when they come to deliver your office supplies.
Ultimately, however, we want to ensure that when a client finishes with our services, they can enter the workforce successfully, regardless of the barriers they initially faced. We want them to have the success we all feel when we find meaningful employment. And we want them to be confident that they can do it on their own, from the application process to interviewing to landing and keeping that position.
For a service that is all about helping others try to find employment, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job.
Businesses that engage as a partner with the community, particularly ones that financially support local causes or encourage their workers to volunteer, are often described as “good corporate citizens.”
At Quality Connections, we are working to take being good corporate citizens to the next level by embracing a philosophy called conscious capitalism.
You might be wondering “What is that?”
Simply put, it’s taking the impulses of being good corporate citizens, but then expanding them to all facets of our day-to-day operations.
We sincerely believe that business is a force for good; it allows us to create value, it creates jobs, it can even lift people out of poverty. But making money just for the sake of making money isn’t enough; businesses do better for everyone if they are tied to a high purpose.
At Quality Connections, we are proud of running a competitive office supply business, but our higher purpose is our education and workforce training programs for those with disabilities that are made possible because of those profits.
In addition to a higher purpose, conscious capitalism asks companies to be aware of their impact on society and the natural environment. It’s often expressed as having a triple bottom line of “Profits, People and Planet.”
Here are the four main principals of conscious capitalism:
1. Have a higher purpose: Profits are great (and necessary) but they are a tool, not a source of inspiration. The deeper purpose of a business is what truly engages people.
2. Stakeholder orientation: Understand your business has an “ecosystem” that includes customers, employees, suppliers, investors, shareholders, communities, and the environment. They are interconnected and they all are important to your business.
3. Conscious leadership: It’s essential to have leadership that keeps your company’s higher purpose front and center.
Conscious culture: All of these elements ultimately create a conscious culture that builds trust, care and cooperation and fosters accountability, transparency, integrity, and fairness.
Studies show that conscious capitalism is just good business; companies that work towards these principles enjoy increased harmony between employers and employees, better customer satisfaction and loyalty, and more community engagement.
It’s so good to have QC Learning back and in person.
As many of you know, Quality Connections has helped individuals with disabilities become independent, productive members of our community by providing them with employment opportunities, job training, and practical life learning programs.
This includes QC Learning, a weekday adult day program that uses the Montessori approach to guide lessons on life, communication, and social skills. It was a piece of our puzzle that was missing, until recently, because of coronavirus.
In our limited space, how could we safely provide this service for all our adult learners?
Last month, however, we were able to start again in a temporary location that not only allows our clients and staff to adhere to social distancing norms, but also seems uniquely suited to the Montessori approach.
We began classes at the Frontiere property, a rustic event venue about 10 miles southwest of Flagstaff with amazing views of Rogers Lake and the San Francisco Peaks. The area is filled with a variety of wildlife and it’s common to see elk, mule deer, prairie dogs and even bald eagles there.
This special setting only enhances the Montessori experience for our adult students. One of the pillars of this educational method is the sensorial approach to learning about the world around you. Students are encouraged to learn to notice details like color, shape, texture, smell, sound, weight, and temperature.
“Instead of hearing about what a tree is, they’ll be able to see and touch a tree,” said Vicki Barber, the QC Learning Director. “Instead of seeing pictures of birds, they’ll be able to watch real birds with binoculars. Marie Montessori believed that the outdoors should be your classroom.”
In the Montessori method, students chose an activity from within a prescribed range of areas like language, math, time skills and practical life skills. There is a book of lessons with pictures and the students pick what they want to pursue on any given day.
“It allows us to tailor each student’s instruction,” said Barber. “We find out where they are, and we follow the learner. It’s as much about guiding them as teaching them.”
You can tell from our photos how exciting and engaging our adult learners are finding this new setting; it’s like a field trip every day.
Quality Connections plans to rent the Frontiere property through November for our QC Learning classes. After almost six months of being closed due to COVID-19, it is extremely rewarding to be back with a solution that is safe for our students and puts them once again on the road to discovery and increased independence.