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 Florist Shop

Despite down economy, more are employing disabled workers

BY WAYNE T. PRICE • FLORIDA TODAY • October 28, 2009

Tara Fagan, owner of Rainbow Florist & Gifts in Melbourne, says she and employee Tim Smith make a good team.

They both work hard, have a good sense of humor and help each other when needed. The pairing hasn’t been without a few bumps here and there, she said, but it has been fulfilling.

“He’s really taught me a lot,” Fagan said. “Like how to be patient and how to help one another.”

The 22-year-old Smith, who has autism, found employment at Rainbow Florist four months ago through the Brevard Business Leadership Network, a four-year-old organization that helps locate work for individuals with disabilities who might otherwise remain jobless.

The leadership network is recognizing Rainbow Florist and four other companies at a luncheon today at the Crown Plaza Oceanfront in Melbourne for their commitment to hiring workers with disabilities.

The other companies being honored are:

  • Melbourne Animal Hospital;

  • SarahCare of Melbourne;

  • Symetrics Industries LLC, Melbourne;

  • Whittaker Cooper Financial Group, Melbourne.

    A hurdle this year for the agency is the weak economy, which has elevated unemployment for all workers — it’s 11.1 percent overall in Brevard, with nearly three out of four people with disabilities jobless — and reduced the number of available jobs.

    “I would have to say the high unemployment rate and the current economic situation has made it a bit more difficult to find positions for our clients, but bottom line, employers are looking for dedicated, hard-working employees, and our clients are able to fill that need,” said Betsy Farmer, the founder and executive director of Brevard Business Leadership Network.

    Businesses seem to be getting Farmer’s message. The leadership network is working with more than 50 companies, twice as many as last year.

    “I believe the message to the business community is that when given the chance, people with special needs can become an integral part of any business,” she said.

    Symetrics, a Melbourne-based defense contractor, got involved with the Brevard Business Leadership Network earlier this year following a chance meeting between Farmer and Mitch Garner, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

    That led to Symetrics hiring 21-year-old Cristin Palmer of Melbourne as an office clerk, where her duties include filing, scanning and performing various other tasks at the direction of several different departments.

    Palmer has learning disabilities.

    “Cristin has been a wonderful addition to our employee family,” Garner said. “She is enthusiastic, helpful and cheerful. Everyone loves to work with Cristin and she brightens our day each time she walks through the front door.”

    Fagan, the Rainbow Florist owner and a longtime acquaintance of Farmer’s, is also pleased with the program.

    When she was at the point where she needed some help, working with Brevard Business Leadership Network seemed to make sense.

    “There was a need and I have always tried to be community minded,” Fagan said.

    Smith’s roster of duties include helping make floral arrangements. He also started making potpourri from the flower petals that fall off arrangements.

    “I like colors and the smells when working here,” Smith said, adding how he also helped get the store computer running again.

    Farmer, whose adult son, Luke, was born with Down syndrome, has worked for years to ensure that he and others would not be anything less than viable and contributing members of society.

    One of her main points to business and community leaders is that programs like hers save taxpayer money because they lessen the need for the public assistance that often goes to the disabled.

  • Another point is that workers with disabilities should not be relegated to simple tasks such as pushing a broom. That’s why in January 2008 she added an employment agency component to the Brevard Business Leadership Network, which was originally established as a network of companies that supported hiring people with disabilities. 
  • Source:  http://www.tallahassee.com/article/A9/20091028/BUSINESS/910280328/1003

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