S1. Ep. 3
A Powerful Partnership (Part 1)


August 31, 2020


20 minutes


Amplify Inclusion Podcast


Welcome to Amplify Inclusion, a podcast where we share authentic stories of inclusion in action.

“A natural progression is to start with laying a foundation.” Partners are critical to our mission and they begin with committed leaders. Brad Nardick, CEO of The Bazaar Inc., and Beth Forde, Director of Aspire Community Employment, tell the story of their partnership, how it began and what has made it successful. This episode is part of the Season 1 Series: ‘Workplace Transformation Starts Small’. Listen now or view the full transcript below. 

This episode was produced by Aspire Inclusive Solutions and engineered, edited and mixed by Subframe Sound with music courtesy of Nealle DiPaolo.

Full Transcript

00:00:03 Clare 

Welcome to Amplify Inclusion. I’m Clare Killy, Director of inclusive Solutions at Aspire.  Thanks for joining us as we share real stories and conversations about the power and  importance of disability inclusion. Today we’re releasing two episodes to conclude our  series focused on the idea that work place transformation start small. At Aspire, we  know that partners are critical to our mission and this two-part segment will detail the  progression of one of those partnerships. In part one, will hear from Beth Forde, the  Director of Community Employment at Aspire, and from Brad Nardick, CEO of The  Bazaar Inc. Brad’s company and its retail off-shoot, Bargains In A Box, have been a  partner of Aspire for a few years. Brad and Beth will discuss how the partnership began  and the steps they’ve taken to make it successful. Then in part two, in addition to Beth  and Brad, we’ll also hear from Manny, and employee of The Bazaar who found his  position through Aspire. They’ll be discussing how the partnership continues to evolve  first. Here’s Beth… 

00:01:16 Beth 

I am Beth Forde. I’m the Director of Community Employment. Community Employment  is a program at Aspire, in Aspire Careers, and what we do is support individuals with  disabilities to find and retain employment. We partner with companies and  organizations in the community who are looking to diversify their workforce and  support people with disabilities at their company. So we really see it as education on  both ends – education for the individual to realize their rights and also that they belong  in a competitive environment, and the education with the employer that the employer  can provide a more inclusive environment for the individual. So we have approximately  50-60 Community Partners who we are kind of actively working with, they’re all at  various stages of involvement or engagement. So we have a wide array of different  industries, you know, the culinary, we have warehouse distribution, we have office  clerical positions – really any industry that you can think of we have as partners. We  really believe that inclusion strengthens our communities, including companies, and we really think of a partnership as a mutually beneficial relationship. The company  who wants to diversify can look to us for that support and we can partner with that  employer in providing them with strong and ready candidates for the roles that we can  assist them in identifying. So partnerships are critical in moving our mission forward  and one example of a great partnership that has developed is with Bargains In A Box. 

00:03:08 Brad 

My name is Brad Nardick and I am the CEO of Bargains In A Box and The Bazaar Inc. and we are a middle-market distributor of overstock consumer merchandising. So we  partner with major American manufacturers and we buy their overstock that didn’t sell  through the primary markets and redistribute it to middle-market retail chains across  the world, as well as our own retail chains, which is what Bargains In A Box is. My  grandfather started the business in 1960. He passed away when my dad was 19 and  my dad dropped out of school, took over the company. There was one person who  worked there at the time and he ran the company for 43 years. I came into the mix at  the tail end of that, you know, taking more of the leadership role and the directional  role within the company. I really think the the biggest takeaway was just seeing the  way my Dad interacted with people who were on the team, people who were  customers, seeing that he was like highly highly personable and he took his time and  he really knew a lot about the people who were around him. And so I had that model  to work off of and that’s still very much present in the value system here. You know,  one of our company values is ‘it’s not just business, it’s personal’ and another one of  our values is ‘people first’ and that relates to the work that we do in the disability  community. I think everything from our onboarding process with how we choose to  hire, who we choose to hire, is really based on getting to know the people who are  looking for a job or who have come on board. Today we have about 35 people who  work here who have come through different disability inclusion partnerships – it’s actually about 25% of our total staff.  

00:05:07 Beth 

So about a year-and-half ago, Bargains and Brad reached out to leadership at Aspire.  He had done his homework and had reached out to different companies and agencies  and organizations like Aspire, and calling on them to provide some perspective and  and some guidance on how to start these first steps. So in the beginning, he really was  just kind of information gathering and so we met and shared a little bit about the  Community Employment Program and how we work and how we could support him  and Bargains to help his mission of diversifying his workforce. So from the start, it was  very clear that Brad was a deeply committed leader. 

00:05:57 Brad 

I’ve been a part of disability support since I was really young. You know, I had my own  set of challenges when it came to going through the school system. I was always in  some form of a Special Ed. class and I just remember always getting told a story ‘you’re not really going to do much’, you know, kind of like having like the recurring theme  like, ‘you’re the special case, set your expectations low’ and I took it really personally  and I think that’s one of the things that motivates me today inside the business is that I  think a lot of people who come to us are incredibly talented, incredibly capable, have a  lot of value to offer and have been told otherwise for a really long time. So the seed of  disability support started really early on. And when I went away to school, I was in a  rehab psychology program, so I had hands-on experience working with people with  disabilities. And then after I got out of school, I went to the Paralympic games in 2016  as a volunteer for Team USA. But the disability hiring, about five years ago…we started  our first internship program and we did not have a lot of success in the program and I  think what we learned there was like you have to make it very personal. You can’t just  say ‘hey, here’s the job description, do this job and we’ll come back later and see you’. So we started doing the work then and had a lot of iterations of trying to scale up our  ability to hire people with disabilities and, you know, over time just through knowing  more people in the community, finding more ways of getting support, you know, I  learned a lot more about how to do this well. I think there was a few like big turning  point moments, and I can use an example that we have with Aspire – you know, so I  had found you guys online I think, and begged to come in for a meeting and then I met  Jim and I met Beth Forde and it was like astonishing, like we were like, what a cool  form of training, all the different supports, this is so cool. Not only that, but the culture  that I experienced when I was there felt really aligned to me. It was really cool to see  all these people who have dedicated their life and career to supporting the disability  Community. That was the first environment I’d really been in of that nature. So I think  it gave me a lot of like inspiration of what could take place here. But again, at that  point our ability to execute at Bargains In A Box and at The Bazaar, was just we just  weren’t quite well set up to do it yet.  

00:08:38 Beth 

Well Brad’s energy is contagious and just like Aspire, I think he had a larger vision of  inclusion. And he understood right away that there are challenges and there are  obstacles and he wanted to find out what those could be, but what it started with was  inspiration and vision and he is very enthusiastic but also very realistic in his  understanding of what needs to happen.  

00:09:10 Brad 

I really wanted to be hiring people with disabilities into like all of the job openings we  had, but I just didn’t have the partners to do it and we didn’t have the right types of  supports in place. And I’m not ashamed to admit that when I was trying to do it on my  own, it was a disaster. The difference after that was when we went to go visit Aspire  and we captured some really cool ideas and some direction from them, we had the  right people here to execute and move forward. So it had an exponential effect on our  ability to hire and train and retain team members with disabilities, whereas before we  weren’t in a position to do that. 

00:09:50 Beth 

I would say the qualities of an effective partnership would be a company that is open  to learning about maybe different ways that people communicate or can be successful  and also a company that is flexible and agile and wants to meet the needs of all of their  employers and then I think having a commitment to diversity is a really important  quality.  

00:10:18 Brad 

I think step one is expectation setting and having a sense of shared responsibility. I find  that what a community partner is often concerned about or curious about is what the  foundation is and what the level of commitment is by our company to hire, and by any  company. You know, are we just looking to fill jobs and say that we hire people with  disabilities? Or we really well set up to support somebody who’s coming on board. And  for me as a business owner, what I’m most curious about is what the process that a job  candidate would go through inside of the community partner. Do they get training  before they get here? Is there an assessment that we can have access to so we could  kind of know what the strengths and weaknesses are of the person who were  considering hiring? Will a job coach be on site or not? And then I think another thing  that is a characteristic of effective Community Partnership is definitely just a sense of  the partnership between the organization’s needs to be focused on having this one  person who’s getting hired at that moment in time, for them to be successful. I think  that is like absolutely the most important thing, that the intention is there, that we are  all here to make sure this person is going to be successful. I think that is like the secret  sauce, then you could work through anything. And another thing that I think is like a  little more tactical is, whenever possible, if the community resource partner can come  on site and tour the business with the leadership group. I think that’s a really effective  method, one as you get a view of what kind of jobs and what the work environment is  like, but to just give you a lot of time to get to know how each other operates. So I’d  say those are some of the building blocks of each effective partnerships. 

00:12:11 Beth 

I think the transformation I’ve seen Bargains and Brad go through is that Brad came to  us with a pretty lofty goal. And that was the beginning of his journey from there. We  were able to kind of see that journey and in working with him, and Leadership working  with him…I think that they are still striving for that goal, but I know that they’ve had a  lot of learning experiences since then and they understand that it takes a lot of support  and it takes a lot of commitment. 

00:12:43 Brad 

You know, it takes a few years for anything worth building to get the traction it needs and I think there’s very very few things that from day one are just going to like click  and work, and so it’s been a few years of us working with Aspire, you know, the lines of  communication are quite open and I’d say today, you know, it feels more like they’re, not an internal partner because we are different organizations, but we’re very closely  linked. So I think our partnership has evolved to be very cohesive. 

00:13:14 Beth 

It’s kind of the ideal progression where a company lays down the foundation by  learning as much as they can, by them discovering what has been successful for other  companies, then into actual implementation where they hire individuals and train staff  and that’s where you see the real transformation take place, in the culture and in  people’s lives. 

00:13:42 Brad 

Today, I’d say a lot of the driver forward is seeing that we’ve hired some people and  they’re like genuinely having like a cool result in their life as a whole. When you have  results like that, it’s about way more than just a job. It’s about somebody getting an  opportunity to gain self-confidence. So any aspect of the stigma around “Oh, it’s hard  to hire people with disabilities…What if this? What if this? What if this?…” which I  think keeps a lot of people on the sidelines, a lot of companies on the sidelines, I would  say that there’s a huge reward on the other side of that, which is watching people have  like a transformative experience through the work environment. I think that the best  result that I could have here is that we’ve enhanced and enriched the lives of the  people who have come through the program, and that to me is the most important  thing. 

00:14:33 Clare 

I’d like to thank Brad and Beth for sharing their story. In part two, we’ll hear from an  employee who was hired through the partnership discussed in today’s episode.  (Manny’s voice: My name is Manny and my title and position at The Bazaar is a  logistical customer service agent.) Manny will discuss the hiring process from his  perspective and the impact of this career opportunity. Until then, please rate, review and subscribe to Amplify Inclusion and learn more at aspirehicago.com.  

This episode was produced by the Aspire Inclusive Solutions team and co-produced  and engineered by Subframe Sound.

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