Rachel Lawson, fresh meat and seafood planogram manager for Kroger, and Traci Stewart, deli category manager for Kroger, have more in common than simply their busy careers. They both happen to also be mothers to children who do things differently.
I met them both the other day when I visited them at the Kroger headquarters to take photos on behalf of my client, Cincinnati nonprofit LADD, Inc. (Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled). Susan Brownknight, LADD’s executive director is chairing chairing the Advisory Committee of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber national pilot program to further disability inclusion in small businesses. Part of that program was Connect|Ability Week, a career shadowing experience for students with disabilities. On the day that I visited, college student Seth was spending his afternoon with the Kroger team.
That Kroger was a participant in Connect|Ability Week was of no surprise. The company has been a strong leader and advocate when it comes to many issues…including integrating people with disabilities into our Greater Cincinnati community. For that, Kroger was recognized by LADD with its 2016 Legacy Award. “Kroger’s leadership has shifted the conversation relative to hiring people with disabilities. In many ways, this is not just about giving the Legacy Award, but also about moving the conversation forward on setting policies, protocols and procedures that facilitate inclusive workplace environments,” LADD Executive Director Susan Brownknight said of the company.
However, I learned last week that Kroger was doing even more than hiring a diverse workforce. Rachel and Traci have been spearheading a volunteer effort to support others in the company with life circumstances similar to their own.
It was over a year ago Traci approached her colleague about an idea she had, and Rachel didn’t think twice about jumping on board. That idea has grown into the Kroger Disabilities Resource Care Group that just officially launched in September, 2016. Its mission is to empower Kroger associates with disabilities and associates with dependents who have disabilities with an opportunity to network, address common issues and concerns, and receive support from those who share similar backgrounds, experiences or interests. The Resource Group is committed to providing resources and guidance when it comes to removing the greatest barriers for associates with disabilities, recognizes that all associates’ differences are valued, and wants to build an external awareness of Kroger as the employer of choice for people who experience disabilities.
On launch day in the downtown Cincinnati headquarters, Rachel told me they gave out gift bags and had 100 people register to be members. Then they went to the Kroger Grooms Road IT Department and had an additional 125 people register. Everyone who registered was sent a questionnaire about their greatest needs, and Rachel said they are just beginning to go through that data.
They have in place a plan to roll this out next to the Kroger divisions, beginning with Seattle, and ultimately will include all 2800 neighborhood stores.
Rachel shared some of her story with me. Her inspiration, she told me, comes from her experience raising her daughter with a learning disability who, in the fifth grade, was not reading or writing. Years of determination and support from professionals ultimately led Rachel to figuring out that her daughter saw things as if looking through a mirror. Finally diagnosed and prescribed appropriate medicine to slow her brain down so that she could begin to learn those basic skills, Rachel’s daughter is now a straight A student preparing to attend Morehead University and wants to be a chiropractor.
“Traci was so passionate about being there for me when I was struggling to help my daughter succeed. When she came to me with this idea, it was a no brainer. I knew this is what we needed to do to help others.
We thought it was going to be big but we didn’t anticipate it to be as big as it is turning out to be. Now we are finding there are a lot of associates like us.
I feel really good being a part of this. Now I feel like I am part of a whole community, that I am not the only one who has gone through this. That is the most important part.