Taking Pride In Pots

Taking Pride In Pots

How many people do you know who gripe virtually every day they have to work?
We all know at least a few of those people–heck, you may be one yourself–but a group of about 30 hard-working people at Dillen Products in Middlefield, Ohio, have never shown up with a case of the Mondays. Or the Tuesdays. Or a severe case of any day for that matter.
There is, in fact, little if no drama at this group’s workplace, and the 30 have made just one error in the three years their lead supervisor has been in charge. Considering the group has a strong focus and is extremely efficient, it may come as a surprise to outsiders that every team member is faced with a developmental disability. Autism, down syndrome and mental retardation are among the conditions that impair team members, but none of the 30 lets their condition get in the way of making a living and being a part of the team at Dillen.
“A lot of people are always like, ‘Aww, I gotta go to work today,'” says Darin Frye, the group’s supervisor whom Dillen contracts through Metzenbaum Sheltered Industries (MSI). “I come here and I hear, ‘Aww, look at all the pots we get to do.’ It’s such a night-and-day difference with this community. They really love the work and they take pride in every single pot.”
Tasks the group typically performs are applying UPC labels to flower pots and stacking them and packing Dillen’s Fiber Grow pellet line. Individuals within the group are paid by piece rate, and they take great pride in meeting Dillen’s deadlines–a sense that’s sometimes lacking in individuals who aren’t faced with developmental challenges.
“The reason the quality of work that comes out of this group is so good is because they’re able to focus on small details, whereas you and I might get distracted and lose focus easily,” Frye says.
MSI supports 118 people with disabilities by providing work opportunities in a variety of settings. Forty-three of the 118 people MSI supports work at Dillen and another facility in Middlefield. Dillen is one of about 15 companies for which MSI provides services. Dillen is also the largest of the companies MSI serves.

Moving To Middlefield

When Dillen originally began doing business with MSI, product was shipped 22 miles from the Middlefield production facilities to MSI’s facility in Chesterland, Ohio, where employees would perform job tasks. As Dillen’s Ben Garlich describes, moving pots off site to, for instance, have UPCs applied was a rather involved process.
“We had to load it on a truck, unload it off a truck, put it back on a truck and unload it here,” says Garlich, Dillen’s site manager in Middlefield.
Production efficiency has improved tremendously since Dillen made accommodations for MSI’s employees in Middlefield. Because MSI is part of the Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, MSI has the ability to provide transportation service to its employees. Employees typically work Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but the lengthy trips some employees make to and from Middlefield speak volumes about their dedication to Dillen and their personal sense of pride.
“We have three full-time van drivers, and three direct-care staff members who will go on routes, as well,” Frye says. “We have a couple of folks who are in wheelchairs. We have one (client) who is assisted by a walker, so it does take two staff to help individuals get on and off the vans.”
MSI’s first priority for its employees is to find paid work like the tasks Dillen offers. When Dillen doesn’t have work for MSI, its facility remains open to the 30 employees who get together to perform contracted work for other companies. Even when no paid work is available, MSI still gets its employees together at Dillen for a variety of non-paid training exercises.
“We’ll do anything from social skills to home living skills to work readiness skills,” Frye says. “We’ll conduct mock interviews with them, so if someone is trying to get a job they have an idea how an interview works or how to fill out a resume. We have folks who want to learn how to balance a checkbook, how to program a VCR or how to use a time clock.”
Frye says about 90 percent of MSI’s employees will still make the van ride to Dillen when paid work is not available. The employees go to Dillen because it’s part of their routine and they enjoy each other’s company.
“They love coming here,” Frye says. “They love Dillen and they love being in this building. It’s part of their life.”
Garlich agrees. “They look forward to work. It’s a better life and a step up for them–not a requirement.”

Dillen As A Partner

MSI considers Dillen one of its best partners in part because of Dillen’s willingness to prepare and share specific details about the tasks MSI employees perform. And because Dillen provides detailed information about its products, MSI is easily able to relay that information to its employees for quick training and superior production efficiency.
“Of all the companies we work with Dillen gives us the best spec sheets,” says Brian Reames, MSI manager. “We develop spec sheets for most of the companies we serve, and that’s mostly a matter of me or my production coordinator meeting with the company.”
To Frye, who has a disabled child of his own, Dillen’s willingness to open its doors to MSI is particularly special.
“I think Dillen has gone above and beyond what I would call the call of duty,” Frye says. “It’s been a pleasure being here the three years I’ve been here. I hope to remain here and see the program through. All the people at Dillen are very accommodating.”