On the Job at Olive Garden

If Kathy had her druthers, she would wash dishes at a local restaurant or at least work in food service. She washed dishes for six years at a local eatery until management nixed her position and assigned dishwashing to the waitresses and cooks.

When Olive Garden Restaurant approached Boone County Family Resources about hosting three individuals with disabilities to participate in a job-shadowing activity, Kathy’s name was first to come to mind. She was joined by Brianna and Michael, who are also looking for employment but lack on-the-job experience.

Job shadowing at Olive Garden “was a great chance for them to gain some perspective on competitive employment,” said Martha Echols, a Community Skills Specialist with the Life & Work Program at BCFR.  The hope is that experiences, such as job-shadowing, will help prepare participants for employment by giving them a taste of a real-world job.

The opportunity was Olive Garden’s way of participating in the National Disability Mentoring (DMD) Day program, sponsored each year by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). The local restaurant has been a longtime participant of the event which is generally held in October or November.

“Our restaurants support the program by either hosting lunch for up to 10 individuals with disabilities and DMD coordinators, teaching them about different team member roles at the restaurant, delivering complimentary meals to support a DMD activity or by hosting one to three individuals with disabilities to participate in a job-shadowing activity,” said Tara Gray with Olive Garden’s media relations.

The participants from BCFR job shadowed for two hours prepping food before the restaurant opened. Most of the work involved portioning food for individual servings. Then they ate lunch with the manager. 

Brianna, 29, has been unemployed since graduating from high school in 2003. She has been training with BCFR’s Life & Work    Connection’s work crew for more than a year. With the help of a BCFR Community Skills Specialist, she is seeking part-time  employment. She is interested in working in a hospital/residential care environment and is interested in completing the Certified Nursing Assistant course at the Columbia Area Career Center.

“Brianna was chosen to job shadow at the Olive Garden to gain experience working in a new environment and interacting with new people,” Martha said.

William, 20, graduated from high school in 2011 and recently moved into his own apartment. He’s also working on the Life & Work Connection’s work crew and his seeking part-time employment with the help of a BCFR Community Skills Specialist. He seemed motivated to work hard while job shadowing.

Martha said, “William was focused on his work, followed   directions well and completed all the worked that was requested of him.”

For Kathy, 50, preparing food and measuring ingredients weren’t her strongest skills. Still, she maintained a positive attitude and enjoyed the work. The Olive Garden invited her back to job shadow as a dishwasher, a skill about which she is far more confident.

“Kathy’s positive attitude is one of her best qualities,” Martha said. “She is always trying her best.”