As the pink florescent lights start to shine and strains of “Tiny Dancer” fill the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Gloria Waller begins to grin. Gloria was just promoted to working at the Nathan’s Famous concession stand and received her first tip for a job well done.
Her first night running food and drinks to hundreds of attendees at the Elton John concert comes after more than a year of keeping Levy Restaurants’ concession carts of condiments and utensils well organized for fans of acts, ranging from UFC fighters to Billy Joel.
“I love to work and the energy of the different crowds,” said Gloria, who easily averaged 10,000 steps running to plate hot dogs, fill drinks, bag popcorn and cheerfully answer questions.
“Gloria is a hard worker and proactive,” said co-worker, Jennette Ackerman, who rang up customers while Gloria gathered orders. “She was always there, ready. I didn’t have to ask.”
Almost 30 years ago, Gloria might not have had this opportunity and even now people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) experience more than double the unemployment rate of their typical peers, are more than likely to live in or near poverty, and remain one of the most socially isolated groups.
“At Levy Restaurants, they’re a part of our team. There’s no differentiation,” said Bob Dickerson, who manages Levy concessions at the Coliseum. “Gloria is awesome. We talk about whatever is going on and (enjoy) singing together. She’ll also bust my chops.”
Gloria is one of a team of workers employed by Levy Restaurants and supported by AHRC Nassau’s Employment Services, who ensure the people in the program are poised for success.
For example, while Gloria hands a cold beer to a customer or Michael Tindal, also of AHRC, stacks napkins, AHRC Nassau employment training specialists (ETS) check in to answer questions or offer a word of encouragement. Sometimes, they just watch with pride.
From a side door near the stand, AHRC Nassau ETS Nicole Caminiti stood nodding positively as Gloria completed orders.
“I’ve worked with Gloria for almost two years. She’s always motivated and enjoys working,” said Nicole. “I’m so happy for her. You always have a smile on your face at the end of the day at this job because you see people achieve their goals.”