BRATTLEBORO—A semi-circle of people —members of the press, Gathering Place employees, and volunteers — point their cameras and iPhones toward a trio holding award plaques in the Gathering Place’s cafeteria.
In the center of the group, Carolyn Stoughton wipes away her tears with the side of her hand.
“It’s always nice to see the volunteers come through and to see them blossom,” Stoughton said.
On Oct. 7, Stoughton was one of 12 recipients of the 2015 Spirit of ADA Award. The recognition comes from the Governor’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities (GCEPD).
According to the committee’s press release, regardless of whether the economy is strong or weak, people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed than the general population.
The award is presented to individuals and businesses whose business practices reflect “the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” a press release from the committee stated. These practices lead to the hiring and retention of people with disabilities through recruitment strategies and creating an accessible work environment through application of policies, training, or physical modifications.
Stoughton, the adult day care center’s volunteer coordinator, has worked at the Gathering Place for 23 years.
According to a press release from the Governor’s Committee, Stoughton’s efforts have provided people with disabilities with work experience, community service placements, and jobs.
“She consistently offers constructive, helpful feedback on performance and demonstrates flexibility and understanding in accommodating participants’ challenges,” wrote the committee in a press release.
“[Stoughton] sees the whole of a person,” said Cindy Delgatto of the Vermont Association of Business Industry and Rehabilitation (VABIR). She sees the best in people and helps them expand their strengths, Delgatto added.
Christopher J. Loso, Chair of the Vermont GCEPD and vice president of Loso’s Professional Janitorial Services, Inc. in South Burlington, spoke enthusiastically about Stoughton’s work and his experience employing people with disabilities.
Eleven of Loso’s 82 employees have disabilities, he said.
Working with these 11 employees isn’t just a feel-good thing to do, he said. “For me, it’s a smart thing to do.”
According to Loso, the employees at his business are dedicated and positive additions to his workforce. Their high retention rate saves him money on recruitment, hiring, and retention.
The data supports this, Loso added.
In an email, Loso listed statistics from multiple sources. For example, from a 2003 study from Washington Mutual Insurance, turnover rates for employees with disabilities are substantially lower than for the general workforce (8 percent annually for people with disabilities compared to 45 percent nationwide).
Loso also quoted Greg Wasson, Walgreens CEO’s opening plenary speech to the National Governor’s Association Winter Meeting in February 2013. Walgreens experienced a 120 percent increase in productivity after it made a distribution center universally accessible and staffed it with more than 50 percent of employees with a disability.
But, Loso added, it’s about matching the right person to the right job. When employers do, hiring someone with a disability “is an easy sell.”
The committee will work with this year’s award recipients to develop a list of best practices, he said. He also hopes to recruit more disabled veterans back to the workforce.
Stoughton said that the Gathering Place has hired “several” volunteers in her 23 years.
She often receives calls from the friends or family members of people with disabilities asking if there’s something they can do at the Gathering Place.
“There’s always something,” she said. Participants and volunteers benefit from each other’s company when they interact one-on-one, Stoughton said.
When asked if any volunteers stood out in her memory, Stoughton said she hated singling anyone out.
“They’re like my kids,” she said. “They’re all terrific.”
The organization always needs more volunteers, Stoughton said.
Daniel Skurat of VABIR nominated Stoughton.