This week I was able to sit down with the outgoing and incoming directors of one of the largest employers in the Bay Area, and most people don't even know they exist or what they do, but I can guarantee you have seen their work. Bay Area Enterprises employs 67 people. Putting it in the top 10% of organizations in the Oregon’s Bay Area. They have been in existence since 1986 and are a 501 (C) 3 nonprofit.
The mission of Bay Area Enterprises is “To assist individuals with disabilities achieve maximum independence by developing their abilities to find inclusive, meaningful employment.” BAE is a work training organization that places individuals with disabilities into jobs they not only are good at but that they absolutely love. When asked what the mission statement means to them I was told they provide pride for people with significant barriers and disabilities. Almost all work provides dignity to people and benefits everyone around them. Most employees of BAE have been marginalized their entire lives, told they couldn't ever contribute to society and never amount to anything because of their disabilities. BAE returns dignity and a sense of self to their employees. Many times, people look at a person with a disability and see the disability and not the person, BAE is striving to change that.
Is BAE a great place to work? You tell me, they provide insurance and benefits to everyone that works 20 hours a week or more. They have less than a 10% turnover rate, and those that do leave are hired by the companies they have been serving. Many of the employees have been there for 15 or more years, and every employee that I have spoken to has talked about how great the culture is. Every employee loves what they do, and if they don’t love it John and his executive team helps them identify their passion.
Most of their employees are on either Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) which helps individuals that have barriers live. The team at BAE works with the employees to ensure none of them are in jeopardy of losing their income and have flexible hours to accommodate government regulations.
BAE is run by John Bacon, MMMM … Bacon, John has been running BAE for just over a year. When John is asked where he works, he always leaves out his title of “Executive Director”, or something like that, and when pressed for an answer of what he does there he simply replies that he works with some of the greatest people in the world. When asked what he will miss the most, without even thinking about the question John replied, “the People”. He says he doesn’t have 67 employees, he has 67 coworkers that he loves to see, and they love to see him.
John only has three rules that he makes sure everyone follows.
1. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
2. Be Happy.
3. Be Humble.
The biggest hurdles John faces is finding the right people to help. The majority of the work BAE employees do is janitorial, they have some of the largest contracts in the area, I told you, you had seen their work. But not everyone wants to be a janitor, so they find companies that will take a person with a disability and help them learn new skills. If you want to make a difference in the community investigate the Business Ambassador program offered through Bay Area Enterprises. This program asks Businesses to dedicate at least one position at their organization specifically for people with disabilities. And in return the organization receives:
- Opportunities for radio co-branding with BAE,
- Placement on the BAE tradeshow banner,
- An Ambassador window cling,
- Ambassador only events and training.
One of the biggest Ambassadors in the area is McKay’s Market. They have made sure they have dedicated positions for BAE employees. Why? Because they are always looking for someone that is happy to be there. One employee has worked there for 12 years and has never called in sick because he knows that the people at work are looking for him every day.
Recently John announced his resignation, he is going to run the Small Business Development Center and the REEF project. After an incredible search for just the right fit, Drew Farmer is taking the reins of the organization on May 7th. What makes Drew the perfect fit? Drew has been working in the mental health field as an employment counselor for the last 2 years, focused on getting individuals with mental health issues into stable employment.
Drew stated that he is looking forward to working with the culture that is already in place. The culture is the backbone of the operation, why change something that is working. He is looking forward to the future and finding out how they can help and work with even more people. He wants to provide people that have been shunned their entire life with the confidence to just be able to go to the store. Which for some may not seem like a big deal but for many that have been beaten down and made fun of their whole life - it is a big deal.
Drew wants to tell the world what great people they have. “You need to get to know them, it will enrich their lives and it will enrich your life, You will be a better person for knowing our People,” said Drew. And I truly believe my life will never be the same.
If you are interested in becoming an Ambassador or working with Bay Area Enterprises call 541-269-9306 or visit their website www.bayareaenterprises.org.