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Jim's Corner

Reflections on the Value and Dignity of Work

July 9, 2021

Written by our Founder and CEO, our Celebrations Pulse Sunday Letters aim to engage with our community. From sharing stories to welcoming your ideas, we want to help you to express, connect, and celebrate the important people in your life.

We have been reflecting on the dignity of work and the invaluable contributions of workers everywhere to society.

The jobs and careers we choose form a major part of our identity. One of the first questions people ask when they meet someone is, “What do you do for a living?” Whether we’ve devoted years to training for a particular career, have learned our skills on the job, or are lucky enough to work in a field that’s also a passion, a job does become a part of who we are.

There is undeniably dignity and value in work. In Jim’s early days he ran the St. John’s Home for Boys, he recalls having to put his skills of persuasion to use to find a summer job for each of the boys. If the boys worked hard during the day they would more likely be tired at night, which is when they might be inclined to get into trouble in the community. Not only would working keep the boys occupied and out of trouble at night, they would also earn and save money, wake up with a sense of purpose, and explore potential career paths.

Opening Eyes and Opportunities at Work

One of the boys, Norman, was hired at the Empire Hardware Store in the local community. He was amazed when he met a man who was selling drill bits and tools to the hardware store. Norman was inspired to see someone like himself owning and successfully operating his own business.

Suddenly, the future opened itself to Norman, and he had begun to contemplate possibilities for his own life that he could not have imagined prior to his joining the labor force. Before the end of the summer, Norman had earned a raise and promotion.

Having witnessed how valuable Norman’s and the other boys’ experiences were, Jim encouraged his own children to take on service jobs, telling them that work is about value creation and offers unforgettable lessons for life.

Why Work Is More Than a Paycheck

In addition to obtaining a new skill at work, we learn to collaborate with others, find mentors, and resolve conflict tactfully. Working teaches accountability and enables self-sufficiency.

In this regard, work and the relationships we build in our jobs provide a sense of worth, accomplishment, and pride. There’s an important social element, too. We continue to recognize the value of work and, for this reason, seek to create work opportunities for all employable people.

The Dignity of Work and Smile Farms

People who have disabilities have traditionally had very limited employment options. Indeed, pre-pandemic, the employment-to-population ratio for people with disabilities living in community settings was 39% in 2019, according to the Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America: 2020, compiled by the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability. To put that in context, the ratio for people without disabilities is more than double, at 79%.

“Job numbers for people with disabilities were low before the pandemic, and certainly numbers have dropped dramatically,” says Donna Meltzer, CEO of the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities. She notes that the employment rate for people with intellectual disabilities is even lower.

We were determined to bridge that opportunity gap, and, in 2015, we founded Smile Farms, a nonprofit that teaches skills and hires people with developmental disabilities to grow flowers and produce. That, in turn, gives them the opportunity to flourish. Being a valued member of a team and receiving a weekly paycheck are so important for personal satisfaction and self- esteem.

Job creation remains a focal point for Smile Farms, but now we’re tapping into the educational and vocational programs offered by our partners, too. This helps the Farmers develop more skills, which in turn will lead to a wider range of fulfilling work opportunities.

Work is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about who we are. It’s social. It’s about fulfillment engagement, a sense of contributing, and giving back. Above all, it’s about learning, and growing.

Let’s remember to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy fulfilling work and to be treated fairly and with respect.

PS: For more of Jim’s thoughts on the dignity of work read here

PPS. We would love to hear how you’re spending the summer and hear about your summer goals. We have some fun treats for three lucky winners. Share your new summer tradition with us for the chance to win a bouquet from 1-800-Flowers.com, frosted cookies from Cheryl’s Cookies, and a deluxe gift basket from Harry & David.

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