After nearly two hours of rain on opening day of the US Open, Tyra got straight to work. The food village was packed with tennis fans, waiting for play to resume.
She began wiping down the condiment stand. “You’ve got your work cut out for you,” one fan said, as she got sugar for her coffee. “Yeah,” Tyra, a 41-year-old Jamaica resident, responded with a smile, “but that’s OK.”
Tyra is among 50 workers with developmental disabilities honing their customer service and maintenance skills during the Open. For the 14th consecutive year, Levy Restaurants, the tournament’s caterer, is relying on such employees to keep the high-traffic food village sparkling.
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“We value our partnership with YAI and rely on their teams to help us create the best experience possible for each and every guest at the US Open,” said Ryan Golpeo, director of operation, Levy Restaurants at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Park.
For anyone seeking a job, the economic climate is especially challenging. Unfortunately, only 32.1 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are working, according to a June Bureau of Labor Statistics report. That compares with 77.7 percent of adults without disabilities who are employed.
Despite the gloomy statistics, which are historically low for people with disabilities, the US Open workers realized that this was an opportunity to shine.
Tanuja, a 34-year-old Jamaica resident, had worked at Syms in Manhattan for 13 years, until last year when the company entered into bankruptcy. She’s eager to find another job in retail, but was glad to be working for Levy Restaurants.
“This is my first year at the Open,” Tanuja said. “There are a lot of people here. You’re very active, moving from table to table. You feel important because this is such a major event.”
“I fully believe that every individual, regardless of ability, is capable of working,” said Stephen Freeman, CEO of YAI. “Someone just needs to provide that chance. We need to encourage society to see beyond disability and recognize that every individual has unique talents and abilities.”
Satera Febus, supervisor of a YAI employment program, said with the support of on-site staff, everyone can thrive on the job. “In the beginning, we made sure that we had people who had held jobs before filling in with a few people who had never worked before. Now, any one of the individuals in our programs can work here,” Febus added.
Derrick, 29, of Queens Village, waited out the rain with two colleagues who were about to start their first shifts at the Open. “They’re rookies,” he said with a smile. “This is my third year working here. It’s a fun place to work.”
Andrew Brown, a job coach who works in YAI’s Queens employment program, enjoyed seeing so many people on the job for the first time. “This is so great,” he said. “It gives them job experience to add to their resume. They are learning what it’s like to show up on time, have a set of responsibilities to complete and interact with many people.”
Lynn Berman is senior media relations manager at YAI.