employU 2023 Business Partner Awards

2023 employU Business Partner Awards

Now three years running, the employU Business Partners Awards has served as a way for us to highlight the business and community partners who go above and beyond when it comes to disability inclusion in the workforce. Nominated by the employU staff who work with these businesses directly, the partners who receive these awards have shown their commitment to providing a welcoming environment to employU clients and fostering workforce inclusivity. Though many business partners were nominated, the award winners listed below have truly gone above and beyond in the mission to provide our clients with meaningful work experiences. 

Advocate of the Year 


Walgreens business Partner AwardsThe Walgreens REDI program is a three to four-week in-store hands-on training program for retail employees with disabilities that teaches customer service skills and allows a person with disabilities the possibility of becoming employed by Walgreens when completed successfully. employU Program Coordinator of Special Projects, Candace explains how the partnership came about, “In May of 2022, I approached the Walgreens on 13th Street in Gainesville about allowing us to have clients complete the REDI program in their stores. The manager, Melanie Fuhrmann, was very receptive to allowing our client to train in her store. Melanie introduced me to Henry Gonzalez, her district manager. I explained how the program works with 3 weeks of hands-on training and how I would love to see other stores besides Melanie’s participate in such a great program.  

I went around and introduced myself to every manager in the Gainesville district and made them aware of this exciting opportunity. Henry was impressed with my persistence, and as a result invited our company to their Annual Quarterly Meeting with the Director of Pharmacy and Retail, Tom Goden. This allowed me, as the Program Coordinator of Special Projects, to introduce employU’s REDI job coaches, area managers, and the Program Director to the Walgreens store managers and prove we had the people to back the program. The managers were thrilled with this new opportunity for the On-the-Job trainings and the ability to hire trained CSA’s.  

Henry really pumped up the REDI program with his district. Soon, more and more managers agreed to accept REDI clients at their stores. As a result, we were able to get 22 people trained in his stores from June 2022 until now. Out of those 22 people, 19 were successfully hired! The Gainesville District really has gone the extra mile to help place people with disabilities in their stores and we could not be happier to have such a great partnership!” 


Nonprofit Partner Award  

Young Marines   

Young Marines Business AwardsThe Young Marines is a national non-profit providing services for youth, aged 8 through high school graduation. employU Youth Employment Specialist, Jon, explains why he nominated the organization,  “The Young Marines of North Central Florida, under the leadership of Ms. Andrea Nichols, has provided an oasis of knowledge, pride, and self-confidence for our clients. Over the last 3 years, Ms. Nichols has partnered with us to provide over 20 of our clients with meaningful work experiences in the field of agriculture and farming. Our students have been responsible for maintaining and harvesting over 8 acres of vegetables to be shared with the local community.  

In addition to the agricultural aspect of the partnership, the Young Marines program provides clients the opportunity to work with farm animals such as pigs, cows, and goats. Clients also have the opportunity to train service animals for veterans with disabilities. Because of the plethora of potential skills to be gained in the program, clients are often eager to return for multiple experiences.  

Ms. Nichols provides a family-like environment and is very nurturing and caring to all of our clients. She’s willing to work with any student…and helps to pull the best out of each client she works with.” 


Community Impact Award 

Tropical Smoothie  

Tropical SmoothieTropical Smoothie is a franchise restaurant serving smoothies, wraps, sandwiches, flatbreads, and salads throughout the United States. Working with over 50 employU clients, Tropical Smoothie is a business partner who has been a terrific fit for both adult and youth clients. “We have found the small shops to be just the right pace for many of our clients. The ability to learn measured tasks matching each individual’s abilities and skills is very valuable. Overall, our employment staff and clients have made successful matches for both employment and work experiences,” employU Area Manager of Vocational Services, Jan. 


Burlington is a large retail store known for high-quality products at a discounted price. “All of [Burlington’s] staff have been welcoming and helpful to our clients. We have had many on-the-job trainings and Work-Based Learning Experiences, as well as several successful placements. They are amenable and flexible to our clients’ needs and schedules and this environment has given our clients a look into retail, stocking, and customer service. Its larger scale has allowed us to have multiple clients at a time without ever running out of tasks to work with them on. Overall, it has been a fabulous partnership and we look forward to continuing it for a long time,” explains Jan.  

F&R Cleaning   

F&R CleaningWorking with over 40 employU clients, F&R Cleaning is a cleaning company who we’ve highlighted in the past. Jan explains, “F&R has been a fantastic partner immediately. After the pandemic this small business was awarded multiple contracts for ‘touch point’ cleaning of places like the local libraries. This gave them the opportunity to work with some of our clients who did best in smaller, quiet locations with very simple cleaning tasks. Since that time, we have partnered [with them] for both work experiences and direct hires and [have had] many successful closures. F&R has even included some of the employU staff that worked closely with them in their employee outings. We look forward to continuing this valuable partnership.” 




Hampton Inn & Suites   

Hampton InnHampton Inn and Suites is a national hotel chain by Hilton Worldwide.  This particular location in Stuart has worked with over 30 employU clients. Lead Youth Employment Specialist, Kimberly, describes Hampton Inn and Suites as “…always warm and welcoming and willing to give every consumer opportunity without delay or judgment.  The team works to provide each individual with natural support, and they are always very flexible and kind.” 






Freedom Air and Plumbing   

Freedom Air and Plumbing business awardAlso working with over 30 employU clients, Freedom Air and Plumbing is a business partner who teaches clients industry skills.  Glenna, employU Youth Services Consultant says, “Freedom Air joined in  partnership with employU for the original BRICK program.” They also provide on-the-job trainings that sometimes lead to job placements. Aaric was one of the clients who was hired after completing an On-the-Job training with Freedom Air and Plumbing.  Aaric continued to grow with the company Glenna explains, “Aaric…ended up supervising a student we put there that summer. …Freedom Air & Plumbing has been amazing to the clients that we have placed at both locations.” 


Changemaker Award  


Panera Bread Business AwardsA casual café style restaurant, Panera is a business partner that provides an opportunity for employU clients to learn skills needed in the food service industry. employU Employment Specialist Job Coach, Kailee explains how this business partner has gone above and beyond in providing opportunities for our clients. “Connie, the hiring manager is so happy to work with our [clients]. She has consistently asked for more clients. She is patient and has a passion for working with people’s abilities. She does not give up and will ask for help if needed. …She always asks how she can better serve us. She treats her employees like family and provides a safe, welcoming atmosphere. I can truly trust that she is making sure our clients are taken care of when our staff [is not] present.” 



Lakeside Lanes  

Lakeside LanesA bowling alley with food, arcades, and fun, Lakeside Lanes is a business partner that provides on-the-job training for employU youth clients. “Lakeside Lanes has been an amazing host placement for the last 2 years,” explains employU Youth Employment Specialist Tara. “Owners Barry and Kate Farley are retired School Educators and Community Activists who welcome our students and provide them with on-the-job training so they can obtain hard and soft skills useful for future employment. Kate meets with each student and provides them with a proper interview as well as asks each student about their own career goals and interests. She encourages the students to try various positions with the main goal of resume building and obtaining working skills that can be useful in other areas of employment.  …The staff at Lakeside Lanes are welcoming and provide a positive experience for each student as well as adapt skills for the student’s needs if necessary. The staff and management team provide a positive learning atmosphere where students can thrive.” 


For more information on partnering with employU, visit  https://employu.org/business-partners or contact us using the form below.

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