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What does an organic Santa Cruz microbrewery have in common with a national big-box chain store like Costco?

November 28, 2011 1 comment

Kate Bemesderfer is the Lead Instructor, at the Coryell Autism Center, Santa Cruz, CA

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing (SCMB) has earned a solid and well-deserved reputation for being more than just a purveyor of tasty organic microbrews and sustainable brewing practices. Brewery owners Chad Brill and Emily Thomas and their talented staff play a major role in Santa Cruz, California community-building. They have high standards, open hearts, and a creative, collaborative approach to just about everything they do. So it is fitting that, on top of everything else they do, SCMB is proving itself to be a valuable ally to the disability community by partnering with Coryell Autism Center to provide job opportunities for our students with autism.

When we approached Chad & Emily about offering an internship to Hunter, they took him in and treated him like one of their own, giving him real work and real compensation from the beginning.  No one at SCMB had much familiarity with autism or developmental disabilities, and the learning curve has at times been sharp.  Like anyone, Hunter has the occasional bad day at work, which means that his coworkers have seen him at his most difficult.  That’s why it’s been so impressive to see the staff of SCMB continue to accept and encourage Hunter to be his best.  It turns out that he has the same effect on them.  As Nicole Beatie, who handles Sales & Distribution for SCMB, puts it, “He’s not really different from any of us. He just needs a little more guidance than some, and probably less than others.  Everyone here has been patient and understanding with him, and that has made me feel good about the other folks I work with, too.”

After six months on the job, Hunter is a valued part of the SCMB team, and it’s a team that Hunter likes being on.  Every bottle of beer the brewery produces is hand-labeled by Hunter, who has learned not only to handle the labeling by himself, but to keep track of the inventory, and to set up the tap room and patio in time for opening. He works at the same rate as anyone else (sometimes faster).  He troubleshoots when supplies are missing, mislaid, or malfunctioning.  He keeps track of his work, noticing and correcting errors.  And he interacts both socially and professionally with the brewery staff, becoming an active part of his own community.  With Hunter’s help, the brewery has been getting bigger.  As the brewery continues to expand, so, too, do Hunter’s opportunities.  It’s a lot of work to keep up with the growing demand, so when the opportunity to increase distribution came to the brewery, Chad and Emily came to Hunter.

Not only is SCMB gearing up to open a second pub in Felton, but they’ve recently contracted with Costco—another of Hunter’s favorite places—to create 6-pack gift boxes of their most popular brews. Once the beer is in the bottles and the bottles are in the warehouse, the job of filling the Costco order falls primarily to Hunter.  SCMB has moved their post-production and storage from the small garage where Hunter started to a much larger warehouse a little farther down the road, so he rides his bike to work instead of walking.  Now, labeling bottles is just the first step in a process that involves taping together gift boxes, filling them with the bottles, sealing them with a hot glue gun, and organizing the finished product on a pallet, all while maintaining a retail-worthy aesthetic.  Hunter takes pride in getting it done right and making it look good.  It’s hard work, but it pays off—literally.  Hunter receives both a WorkAbility paycheck and trade from the brewery.  His favorite part of his shift comes at the end, when he returns to the pub for a nice frosty pint…of root beer!

For more information about Coryell Autism Center visit: www.CoryellAutismCenter.org

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