Honda EVP Rick Schostek on Disability Employment Awareness Month: A Father’s Perspective
Like most parents, Honda North America Executive Vice President Rick Schostek’s face lights up when he talks about his son, Greg. The pride particularly shines through when he talks about his son’s recent accomplishments.
“I’m his biggest fan and cheerleader,” says Rick.
In recent years, Greg, who just turned 30, moved into a condo with a roommate and has a job at a local hotel, significant milestones of independence for someone with autism.
In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Rick is sharing his son’s story and a message of acceptance, inclusion and hope for people with disabilities.
“All people with disabilities aren’t the same,” Rick said. “Greg has an incredibly strong memory and attention to detail. But if you said to Greg, ‘Give me all the money in your wallet,’ he would do it.”
Rick has been an advocate for people with disabilities for many years and this week he served as the keynote speaker at The Alpha Group of Delaware’s Partnership Celebration. The Alpha Group contracts with the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities in Ohio to provide occupational services and support.
Honda contracts with a similar organization in Union County to provide individuals with disabilities opportunities to perform sub-assembly work and assembly of vehicle owners’ manuals.
In Rick’s self-published book, What Happens Next? Raising a Son with Autism, he compares the experience of learning your child has autism to finding out the trip you’ve planned to Italy is now a trip to Holland.
Different than expected, but not less.
Autism is a neurological developmental disorder that impairs one’s ability to communicate and interact. Greg’s ability to communicate is limited and he needs support to live on his own, but his parents have worked with him to develop skills to live as independently as possible.
Greg loves Christmas, says his dad. “He has the Christmas Classics memorized, and often quotes lines from those videos in relation to everyday life,” said Rick.
Becoming one of the 18 percent of Americans with disabilities who are employed has been a journey for Greg. In high school, he participated in a variety of internships where it became apparent that his strengths lie with his attention to detail.
In 2015, Greg joined the Alpha Community Experience (ACE) training program at The Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center in Columbus. This program allows people with disabilities to explore, in a community setting, vocational opportunities based on their interests and skills.
A year and a half ago, Greg began working in the laundry department of a Dublin hotel every Monday through Thursday, for five hours a day. He folds sheets and towels with precision and efficiency. Alpha’s team at ACE worked hand in hand with Greg over the first two months to promote his communication and social interactions with others on the job.
The job coaches also helped him navigate day-to-day challenges like how to clock in and out and how to get where he needs to go. Routine is vital for Greg, so changes in the day-to-day schedule or in personnel sometimes require support to keep Greg on task.
“He has a good, understanding supervisor and the environment offers him the safety and routine he needs,” Rick said. “Skills-wise, I think he could do more complex work, but the safety factor enters into it.”
Greg is now the longest-standing member of the laundry department and his colleagues recently celebrated his birthday with a cake at work.
Rick says he enjoys his son’s sense of humor. “Every time we go grocery shopping with him, we go down the pet food aisle, even though there are no pets at our house or at his condo. He picks up a huge box of Milk Bones and puts them in the shopping cart. We act surprised and he laughs and laughs.”
Greg and his success story are featured in two communications in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The state of Ohio’s Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) released a video segment about how their services helped Greg and others find employment. You can see the video here.
In addition, The Alpha Group published its first-ever printed annual report, with Greg prominently featured.
“For me, it’s important that he be a contributing member of society. Even if he’s only making $10 an hour, he’s paying taxes and he’s fully participating in the community.” Schostek said. “It’s about acceptance and inclusion. That’s the key.”