For Alex Ward, 23, his job as a dishwasher is more than just a source of income.
It’s an opportunity.
“I say to customers. ‘Can I take your plate?’ and I say, ‘Enjoy your food? Have a great day!’,” said Ward. “I love to chitchat with the customers.”
Those simple conversations may seem small, but to Ward, they’re signs of the progress he’s made in his job over the past year.
Ward is a client of NW Works, a non-profit organization in Winchester, Va. that trains people with disabilities for jobs in a number of industries. He had previously worked at the Firefly Cafe, a restaurant owned by NW Works as a job training center for the organization.
But for the past nine months, Ward has been working as a dishwasher at Shaffer’s BBQ in Middletown, Va. Like many others at the small business, he does far more than what his title implies.
Shaffer, Ward, Ward’s parents and his employment specialist David Harrison meet every few months to make sure Ward’s on the right path, and Shaffer says they’ve steadily increased Ward’s responsibilties at the restaurant since starting.
“He also interacts with customers,” said Matt Shaffer, owner of the Middletown location. “He clears trays, he washes tables, he sweeps, he mops. He stocks the coolers and takes the trash out. He keeps the parking lot clean. So he has a lot of responsibilities.”
Shaffer says he’s seen a great deal of personal growth in Ward since he started.
“He was quiet, he was reserved and he kinda kept to himself,” said Shaffer. “But once I think he got comfortable here, he really does a nice job of representing who we are as a company and certainly representing what NW Works is doing for the community.”
Harrison hopes Ward can set an example of what people with disabilities can contribute to a work environment if people would simply give them a chance.
“These are great people who deserve an opportunity, and we just need more people to give them that opportunity,” said Harrison. “It helps build that confidence in them to say, ‘you’re needed and you’re necessary’ versus, ‘you’re over-looked and under-looked.'”