One of the first questions Susan Vita was asked 25 years ago, when she took her then infant son Michael to Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Down syndrome clinic was, “what are your hopes for him?”
“Essentially my answer was that I want him to be happy. I want him to be happy with himself. The measure of success is how satisfied you are with what you’re doing. That’s what I want for him,” she said.
Today, Susan, a School nurse at Lutherville Elementary in Baltimore County, proudly says that her hopes for her son Michael are being fulfilled every day he wakes up with a smile on his face and happy to be off to his job at B.C. Brewery (BCB) in Hunt Valley.
On Tap: Inclusion
Opened on April 14, 2018, B.C. Brewery is a microbrewery that brews beer in small batches which is only sold in their taproom. The dog-friendly establishment that also serves food through their on-site food truck and kitchen has a motto – Building a Community through Beer; a motto that Susan said they live up to through their many community events, and atmosphere of acceptance and inclusion.
Michael, who will turn 26 at the end of June, has only been on the job at BCB for six months, but in that short time he’s racked up a lot of fans and glowing praise for the work he does and the positive attitude he brings to the job, which he landed while enrolled in Penn-Mar’s Customized Employment program’s Exploration and Discovery.
“I had been looking around for opportunities and different employment programs for Michael, and worked with a disability coordinator,” said Susan. “Penn-Mar came highly recommended.”
“It was Michael’s sister Beth who works at B.C. Brewery who connected us with the job opportunity for him,” said Penn-Mar Employment Support Coordinator Heather Laser. Once a month, Heather checks in with BCB Taproom Manager Sara Thomas to see how Michael’s job is progressing. “Michael is doing great is what I hear every time. He has some really amazing support there.”
Sara, who has a brother with autism, is definitely no stranger to the disability community, and it was her and BCB’s intent from the start to hire a person with disabilities. When Beth mentioned that her brother Michael was looking for employment they gave him a try.
“We thought we could use someone to help with cleaning and bus work around the brew house and taproom, and that it would be a great job opportunity for someone participating in an employment program,” said Sara, adding that working with Penn-Mar has been a very smooth process, and that she appreciates the attention and support they receive through the job coaches and Heather’s regular check-ins.
On the Job
In the course of the half-year he’s been at BCB, Michael has developed his own work routine which although includes ensuring the brew house, taproom and restrooms are spotless, also includes assisting BCB’s Chef Dave Magdeburger with food prep, and serving meals to customers, something he enjoys very much.
“It’s been easy working with Michael. He’s a delight,” said Sara. “He takes direction well and loves his job and everyone loves him. He’s funny and always comes in with a smile. Customers light right up when he delivers their food.”
It’s that positive attitude that Sara said, as a business manager, she’s always looking for in new hires. “I can teach you anything, but I can’t teach you to be a nice person and come in with a good attitude ready and willing to work.”
In addition to earning a paycheck at BCB, Michael is also making money selling his art. When he isn’t working, he’s most often creating. Every Tuesday, the budding artist attends Make Studio in Baltimore, an arts program for people with disabilities. His artwork has been exhibited on numerous occasions, and is for sale on the program’s website.
“People are afraid of what they don’t know, and often tend to pigeonhole others” Susan said. “But when you’re in a community you see that there’s so much potential and opportunities. I’m very proud of Michael. Deep down inside I knew that working would be something that he would be able to do and I’m thankful for the opportunities to do so. I’m thankful too for the people who came before me – all the parents that have worked so hard so that he has a chance.”