PORT ANGELES — Ryan Brooke enjoys working at the Safeway on Lincoln Street in Port Angeles, where customers and employees greet him with smiles.
Brooke, who has Down syndrome, has bagged groceries, collected grocery carts from the parking lot, and done whatever else was needed for the past 13 years at the store.
Though many businesses in Clallam County hire people with disabilities, the store’s continued efforts in hiring people with disabilities were highlighted recently by the Clallam County commissioners and the store was nominated for a Governor’s Award once again.
The county commissioners last week read proclamations recognizing this month as Disability Employment Awareness Month and recognizing employers of individuals with developmental disabilities.
It’s recognition that’s well deserved said Brooke.
“It feels good to make people happy, the people who have the same thing I have,” Brooke said, referring to his disability.
Before moving to Port Angeles, Brooke worked at a grocery store in Rhode Island where he said he wasn’t treated nearly as well.
“They had a really bad attitude,” he said. “But here, it’s 100 percent awesome and I like their smiles.”
Mike Lagrange, who manages the store, said since starting at the store 14 years ago one of his goals has been to provide opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, but he doesn’t create new positions just for people with disabilities.
Instead, he puts them in positions that are needed and that he knows they can do well, he said.
“We try to find the right person for the right job,” Lagrange said. “We don’t do job carving and we don’t do ‘token’ employees.”
Finding the right job is what ensures happiness and self respect for the employee, he said.
It is also a lesson he said other employees learn from.
“It’s easier to have respect for someone and treat them with respect when they are working just like you,” he said.
He said the Safeway employs 13 people with developmental disabilities who are supported by community organizations, making up nearly 10 percent of the approximately 160 employees.
Lagrange said he has lost track of how many times the store has been nominated for the Governor’s Award.
Brooke was one of the first employees Lagrange hired in Port Angeles. They have third-degree black belts in Taekwondo and met at a black-belt class more than 13 years years ago.
Though time has passed, Brooke continues to let Lagrange know how thankful he is to work at Safeway.
“Even today, [Brooke] walks up and goes ‘sir, I’m so glad to be here,’ ” Lagrange said. “How many people are so glad to be at their job 13 years later and … take the time to acknowledge and thank the person who hired them 13 years ago?”
Timothy Bruce, developmental disabilities and homelessness planner for Clallam County Health and Human Services, said during a county meeting Oct. 3 that the store “goes out of their way to include everyone in their community.”
Bruce told the county commissioners that only 24 percent of people with disabilities are employed in a manner that they can support themselves and he applauded the commissioners for their proclamations.
He said Monday that the Safeway has done an “excellent job” in being a long-term employer of people with developmental and other disabilities.
Bruce’s office works with 100 people in the county with developmental disabilities and seven of them work at the store.
“It’s in the culture of that store that they support each other,” Bruce said. “[Lagrange] gives people a chance and he looks at what they can do and he puts them to work.
“He does what is necessary so that everyone works as a team.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].