HARRISONBURG — Sarah Layman brings her best everyday, whether she’s greeting customers, folding boxes, making pizzas or working the cash register, which is her favorite part of her job at the Waynesboro Domino’s Pizza.
“I think the reason that’s my favorite part is because I get to meet the people and greet the people,” Layman said. “I’m such a people person and I always want to give love and kindness and care.”
Layman has Down Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder caused by abnormal cell division. About 6,000 babies are born with Down Syndrome in the United States every year, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.
She is part of the ever-increasing number of workers with disabilities helping employers to fill the labor gap, as employers struggle to attract and keep workers. The unemployment for workers with disabilities has been dropping since the statistic was first measured in 2008. In April, the rate hit a low of 6.3%, which stayed unchanged in May.
After graduating from Waynesboro High School in 2011, Layman set goals for herself.
“I’ve always wanted when I graduated, to have a job and then get married to my boyfriend,” she said.
Though she is not married yet, she has had success in obtaining and holding jobs.
“Hopefully in the future we will [get married] — I love him so much,” she said with a laugh.
Layman first got a job at a yoga studio, where she worked until it went out of business. In response, she turned to prayer.
“I prayed to [God] that he would open a door,” Layman said. “Open a door that I would just find the right job that was for me.”
Enter Heather and Ray Sellers.
Ray Sellers was the part owner of 13 area Domino’s and Heather Sellers worked with the company.
The two offered Layman a job as part of the Kindness Care-avan, a self-named program for the hiring of those with special needs, said Heather Sellers, a training director with the 13 area Domino’s in Central Virginia.
Layman still remembers the job offer.
“I felt really emotional because it really meant a lot to me,” she said.
“They are opening this for us so we can come in for work and I just felt God’s blessing coming down on me.”
Layman was nervous about the new job, but she “worked through it,” and she quickly began to love the people she worked with including Heather and Ray Sellers.
Initially, only Layman and one other worker had a disability, but the numbers quickly grew as other locations took on the Kindness Care-avan.
And now, four years after Layman and the Kindness Care-avan began working with Domino’s, the 13 area Domino’s employ almost 20 workers with disabilities.
In 2014 and 2015, Domino’s went about changing how locations looked, Heather Sellers said. The new look would tear down walls, increasing interaction with customers.
“Knowing that we were slightly understaffed and there was going to be more demand for attention from guests, we thought ‘how are we going to bridge the gap?’ ” Heather Sellers said.
Then, the answer came to them, and the Sellers said they decided to “bring in our special abilities people,” which led to the Kindness Care-avan.
Originally members of the Kindness Care-avan were supposed to greet and treat customers like “family” and to help with the patience of the Domino’s staff by taking time to focus on doing things right for the customer, Heather Sellers said.
But, the duties of the workers with disabilities have expanded over time.
“The whole term disability, I don’t feel like they’re disabled,” she said. “It’s more like special abilities.”
And she says the results have only been positive.
Many of the members of the Kindness Care-avan now work some of the busiest nights of the week doing a variety of duties, she said, but those duties are tailored to match the worker’s skill set.
“Our whole business is a whole lot better as a result from the Care-avan,” Heather Sellers said.
The locations with the Kindness Care-avan have high job satisfaction and a good work culture, and some of the workers with disabilities are leaders, she said.
And Layman can definitely be counted in that number, as it’s been a “really good job” for her, she said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, it really doesn’t matter,” Layman said, “because you’re beautifully and wonderfully made.”