Meaningful Employment Matters

Published on : 10/24/23
  • October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Down Syndrome Awareness Month, highlighting the importance of ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute, regardless of disabilities or differences. For Sodexo Live! Chef Lenny Martinsen, executive chef at Caesar's Superdome and Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, it's just the right thing to do. In 2018, he started a partnership with the Down Syndrome Association of Greater New Orleans (DSAGNO) to offer employment to some of their members who were interested in starting a career in hospitality. Honored by the Governor's Office of Disability Affairs in 2019 with a Governor's Outstanding Leadership in Disabilities (GOLD) Award, Chef Lenny has always prioritized making his kitchen a more inclusive place. "It's about recognizing that you can have an impact with relatively small actions. If you can, there's no reason why you shouldn't."

    hannahcaption.jpgMost people with intellectual or developmental disabilities are unemployed or underemployed despite their ability, desire, and willingness to work. "Meaningful employment means working a job they actually want to do," explained Patricia Ehrle, DSAGNO Vice President. DSAGNO provides support to help people with disabilities find and maintain employment based on their interests. "Chef Lenny reached out to us because he thought it would start a great relationship between our candidates and his staff without disabilities. Everyone could learn from each other," said Ehrle.  

    "Our hires from DSAGNO make us better team members and better caregivers. They make me a better manager," said Chef Lenny. "I've seen my staff help an employee with cerebral palsy walk down the stairs. They're not asked to; they just do it. We slow down a bit, pay more attention, and become more understanding of each other. We need to see more of that kindness."

    "Chef Lenny was the spark that ignited the flame. It was so amazing to have a positive conversation with an employer about the contributions our young adults could make," shared Ehrle. "It's an opportunity for them to feel just like everybody else. When somebody asks them where they work, they can say, 'I work at the Superdome.' Do you know how great that makes them feel?"

    The partnership has been so successful that Sodexo Live! General Manager Bruce Krause created the role of Hospitality Ambassador for DSAGNO team members. "They're doing something meaningful during games, intermingling with people, and the community sees them doing something worthwhile. If you have a job you love, you're going to do a good job," said Ehrle.

    Team Member Spotlight

    Hannah LaCourjuliacaption.jpg

    Hannah started at the Superdome in 2018. "I like working there. Working in the cold prep kitchen gave me confidence. My favorite job is wrapping up food and helping make sandwiches to put on serving trays." Since starting at the Dome, Hannah has completed a four-year college program and is back for another season with the Saints. "They are nice and kind and treat me with respect."

    "Hannah has always liked cooking and being in the kitchen. This was an opportunity for her to put that interest to work," said Paula LaCour, Hannah's mother. "She gets so much out of going to a job and learning real-life job skills."

    Julia DiRe

    Julia is 18, was born and raised in New Orleans, claims Taysom Hill as her favorite player, and knew she would work at the Superdome one day. As a new employee, her favorite part of the job has been working in the Dome Suites kitchen, assembling and wrapping cookie and petit four trays. After receiving her chef's coat and hat on her first day, Julia was overjoyed to be an official team member. "She is very excited about this opportunity and loves telling people about it! The kitchen staff has been wonderful," said Lisa DiRe Harris, Julia's mother. "They're all very friendly, welcoming, and enthusiastic."

    "Julia learns by example, by watching how other people work with each other respectfully and collaboratively, and having pride in what they do. She is learning all that by being part of the team," explained Harris, who accompanies Julia as her job coach. "It's very difficult for individuals with disabilities to secure meaningful employment. But the trust is there that she will do a good job."

    With individuals with Down syndrome, you can look at them and know they have a disability. But Sodexo Live! gives them an opportunity to be typical, which they don't get every day."

    Patricia Ehrle, DSAGNO Vice President