AbleCarts created to help get Nevada County residents with disabilities good jobs and fair wages
December 4, 2018
As a kid growing up in Nevada County, Tyler Szura looked up to his big brother, Kevin, who was eight years his senior.
While Kevin was clearly the older and more mature one, their relationship had an atypical twist. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at three months old, Kevin had certain physical limitations, and that's where his kid brother could help.
"We had a very interesting dynamic," said Tyler. "Kevin was wiser, but I could physically help him. We would kind of take care of each other. He'd watch me and make sure I was OK and help me understand right from wrong. I would do things like help him get water and I'd cook for both of us."
When Kevin moved into an apartment of his own at age 23, Tyler was concerned.
"I'm not an emotional person, but it was hard to see him go," said Tyler. "I wanted to make sure he'd be OK. Will he have enough food? What if he slips in the bathtub? What if he chokes?"
As it turned out, Kevin adapted well to his independence. But as the years passed, life outside his daily household chores presented a different kind of challenge. After nearly a decade of working in a "prevocational facility," which provides employment for people living with disabilities, he was yearning for more meaningful work.
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"I wanted to be out in the community," said Kevin, who studied engineering at Sierra College. "Not hidden away, working only with people with disabilities. I wanted full inclusion — I felt like I'd never really feel like a part of society if I wasn't actually in society. I felt like I was in jail."
Prevocational facilities offer a valuable service — they provide people living with disabilities a place to work, which is often their only option, said Tyler. However, while these facilities can provide necessary job skills training, they are legally allowed to pay substantially less than federal minimum wage.
Additionally, only an estimated 5 percent of individuals with disabilities in these work environments ever transition into fair paying jobs within the community, he added. Ultimately, the majority find themselves with no upward mobility when it comes to applying the work skills they've acquired at a prevocational facility.
Seeing that his brother's opportunities were limited, Tyler began to brainstorm, hoping to come up with ideas that would give Kevin and his peers the next step up — an inclusive environment and a fair wage.
As a result, Tyler and Kevin joined forces to develop the nonprofit organization "tkMomentum," with the two lower case letters representing their first names. The primary mission of tkMomentum, launched in November of 2017, is to create employment and social opportunities for people with disabilities.
Since then, the organization has launched an employment program, AbleCarts, a grocery delivery service operated by people with disabilities with a strong focus on inclusivity, upward mobility, professional growth and opportunity.
"We understand that some people with a disability may need extra help with employment," said Tyler, now 25. "But AbleCarts is truly competitive employment. We pay fair wages and set the bar high."
Two Nevada County grocery stores have since agreed to partner with AbleCarts. While the new nonprofit business is currently close to completing an online grocery store where customers can select and buy groceries, employees are currently taking phone orders at SPD Market in Nevada City.
"Once we have perfected our online grocery store software, we will launch with BriarPatch Food Co-op to open this up to their customers and create even more jobs for people with disabilities," said Tyler. "In the interim, those who are seeking grocery delivery services can call 530-277-5964 with their grocery list. Our personal shoppers at AbleCarts will get everything you need from the store and deliver it right to your door."
The cost of service is $8.99 for one hour delivery, and additional $5.99 for a two hour delivery and $3.99 for three hours and every hour thereafter, plus 10 percent of the total cost of groceries. All proceeds go directly toward furthering tkMomentum's mission to create more employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
"When Tyler approached me with this idea I thought it was awesome," said Ben Painter, manager at SPD Market in Nevada City. "He explained how employment opportunities were limited for people like his brother, who has cerebral palsy. AbleCarts is a separate business from us, but they have free rein of our store to train their staff. I think it's wonderful for two reasons — to bring more people into the workforce and help those at home who are not able to get to the store to buy groceries."
While AbleCarts is currently seeking donations to help expand and launch their program in other stores, the measure of the company's success is not just a financial one, said Tyler.
"Most importantly, we measure our success by the amount of employment opportunities we create," said Tyler. "With our current community-involved grocery partnerships, we have the potential to triple our current employment impact in 2019 with the support of the community. Many of these stores have hundreds of employees and the managers don't want to have to worry about us. This is in the contract — that we are self reliant, with our own liability and workers' comp insurance — and I think that really reassured them."
"AbleCarts has put together something pretty special and there has definitely been an interest in grocery delivery among our customers," said Chris Maher, general manager of the BriarPatch Food Co-op. "When Kevin and Tyler brought the concept to us, it was exciting because it's local business with a higher mission and it provides a service at a reasonable cost to the customer and the store. One of our key goals is to build community and this partnership seems like a unique way to do that. Customers can feel like they're doing something good while taking advantage of a valuable service."
Tyler, who is executive director of tkMomentum, and Kevin, who is in charge of community and employee outreach, are currently in the process of speaking to various Nevada County community service groups in the hopes of garnering more financial support, raising awareness and educating the community about the program. Not only does tkMomentum advocate for long-term meaningful employment, they also want to be an ongoing advocate on behalf of their own employees. In the future, they hope to branch out to offer a variety of job opportunities.
"It's rewarding to be directly impacting the community and learning new things," said Kevin, 33. "There is a serious problem when it comes to the lack of employment opportunities. We see AbleCarts as a step between a prevocational facility and the working world. Some people need a little extra help and we make sure that happens."
"You should see our employees — they show up 30 minutes early and are far more passionate than anyone I've ever worked with," said Tyler. "They are so appreciative of the opportunity. Fortunately we've aligned with some of the heavy hitters in this town and I don't think they've signed on just for the marketing. I think they really care. As we continue to grow we'll never lose sight of our mission and Kevin will always be the voice of our employees."
To contact Staff Writer, email Cory Fisher at Cory@theunion.com.
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