This article is the second in a series highlighting Stakes Manufacturing, disability inclusion, and helping the printing industry explore a viable business option. At the end, you will find a list of resources available for support and education. If you missed part one, click here.

When our team first met Jed Seifert, we thought, this is a neat story, one we would like to share. But after getting to know Jed, his business partner Vince Bartozzi, general manager Christopher Marinin, Jed’s brother Darren, and all the welcoming employees at Stakes, we wanted to do more than share the story. We wanted to help Jed propel his goal further: to get other printing shops across the country to implement disability programs and realize the benefits of working with this group of individuals.

Something that Jed said to me that really stuck is, explore a disability inclusion program for your business because it means something to you and your company, improves company culture and employee retention, strengthens managers and employees, helps cultivate teamwork, and has a true ROI. But to realize these benefits you need to put in the work with patience.

What he meant was it’s not something you can just dabble in, it’s not something you can do half-heartedly. It’s not even all about the “right thing to do,” though if I’m being honest, it does feel good to give those who have been previously under-represented a voice.

It’s about looking at your business and knowing this is a viable community to hire from that will also positively change the fabric of your business. It’s about working with organizations like SEEC and CEVEC to do so professionally and with the proper support system. And if you’re an apparel decorating business, or signage or commercial printing business, you’re likely a good fit to find success.

It’s Not About Charity

I know what it’s like to have a family member with a disability, and it’s likely that a large group of you reading this do, too. It can be a struggle, but as Jed has so aptly pointed out, with the proper support structure and right job to skillset match, it is rewarding to work with individuals with disabilities. And he wants the print industry at large to know that.

“[We want to] help break down stigmas and preconceived notions of hiring people with disabilities,” he says. “[We want to] enlighten people who don’t think they have the resources to handle it, to realize all of the amazing support companies there are locally and nationally who will help find and screen qualified job candidates that will be a good fit as well as provide onsite job coaching to help train employees and support your management team, often without any cost to your company.”

It might sound strange at first, but Jed points out that this isn’t charity, it’s meaningful employment and good business with a real ROI. “We plan to start with a focus on making an impact across the printing industry nationally, locally in our community across all industries, and continue to expand from there,” he says of educating others on the topic.

Stakes works with companies like CEVEC, but it goes deeper than that, engraining itself in the internal culture from the top down. Stakes’ manager Christopher Marinin knows that full well. As someone with deep roots in the decorated apparel industry, Christopher eventually connected with Stakes because of mutual business and personal goals.

“The former print company I worked for was experiencing rapid growth after I joined, and I had been tasked with overseeing a large part of that growth, specifically recruiting and developing a more professional culture,” Christopher says. “It was around the time we were expanding our DTG capabilities that I had met Jed Seifert and Vince Bartozzi. I didn’t have much daily interaction with either Jed or Vince, but I was hiring people to work with and for Jed, and knew he had a high expectation for quality and service.”

Over the next few years, the two developed a mutual relationship of respect, and when Christopher left his previous job, he quickly found a home with Stakes. “Looking at the team being put together to run Stakes and understanding Jed’s and Vince’s long-term vision, it aligned with my goals of being able to develop a truly unique print company that placed a high value on quality and the people that produce those items.”

An Inclusive Culture

Fast forward to today, and the process seems to be running smoothly with over 7% of Stakes employees having disabilities and 12 high school interns involved in their School-to-Work training program. With three leaders at the helm who share similar passion, history, and goals, it’s no wonder they stay on track and are even making waves. That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges along the way.

Mike Krenisky, CEVEC job training coordinator for the manufacturing and merchandising segment, works directly with Stakes. It’s clear CEVEC is a well-oiled machine, but as he points out, it’s not always a smooth ride.

“We’re not putting together refrigerators, we’re putting together human beings,” he says. “It’s not always neat and tidy, but there’s a beauty in that.” The same can be said for any work environment, but if leadership is willing to put in the work, to communicate with their employees, the layers ultimately fall into place.

For Stakes, it extends further than just Jed, Vince, and Christopher. They also make sure all of the employees are supported and on board. “Jed encourages his employees if they need help or assistance, or if they feel they have a valuable skill to give our students, he encourages them to step up,” Mike says. He adds that Jed is eager to connect him with anyone who’s interested in being a mentor.

The company is also eager to build a culture, and that takes a team effort. “Holistically, the culture we instill and vision that Jed and I both have for our company is that we are inclusive of everyone and we care about people,” says Vince. “Jed and I have been committed to hiring executives that share our vision and the way we want to represent ourselves in the community, so when we started trying to hire folks with disabilities, the conversation with our director of HR went the same way it would go if I was asking to hire a new product developer or production manager.”

A big part of fostering this vision is Christopher, who works tirelessly to make sure the hiring side of things keeps going in the right direction. “It will take extra effort and focus, especially during the development stage,” he offers to others considering following a similar path. “None of this happens overnight, and there’s plenty of trial and error.”

A Good Option for Others

To that effect, they want to share their experiences and advice in the hopes that other businesses explore developing similar programs. For many, it might seem daunting at first. But Jed, Vince, and Christopher all whole-heartedly agree that it’s not as scary as it might look.

There are, of course, a few things to consider. On one level, Vince feels it’s just like any other hiring practice. “You need structure with any company just to hire any type of human — what you really need is commitment and patience,” he says.

“I believe genuinely hiring persons with disabilities needs to be a unanimous core value of the business leaders regardless of resources,” adds Christopher. “It’s regularly evaluating your policies and people, being willing to make a change or admit you had gotten something wrong. You need to listen and work genuinely hard to sustain your commitment to this mission.”

Jed ensures people, though, that they don’t need to build a full School-to-Work program like Stakes has with the county school system. You can get your company involved simply by hiring just one individual with disabilities. “I think people will be blown away with the company-wide impact realized even from hiring just one disabled individual,” he adds.

As I sit with all three gentlemen, one thing becomes abundantly clear: when done correctly, this kind of program is a great business investment with an equally great ROI. “I see the ROI every day among our staff,” says Christopher. “They proudly showcase these students and help celebrate their victories, [and] teach them how to improve when they don’t meet their goals. Our people speak privately with me about the joy working with persons with disabilities brings to them, many getting emotional during their feedback because when you see someone with a disability find their place as a peer, it truly is a heartwarming experience knowing you’ve helped someone achieve something great.”

Vince emphasizes what Jed said to me separately: “We don’t hire anyone for charity, so all employees of all abilities are trained and put in place to succeed in the position they were hired for.” As a business owner, you always want to place employees where they will succeed, and in doing so, help the company succeed, and this is equally true when hiring those with disabilities. “Folks with special needs may have a different tailored training program, but anyone hired full time is hired because we’re confident in their abilities and to be a valuable crew member,” Vince adds.

I feel like I could have let Jed, Vince, and Christopher talk forever. Their passion, their drive, and their goals for themselves and their employees are so contagious that it’s hard not to want to hang around. Walking into the Stakes facility is like walking into a home you didn’t know you had. It’s like Vince said, “This isn’t a project for us, this is who we are.”

While there is so much more to share, we encourage you to watch the video interviews that accompany parts one and two of these articles. And if you’re interested in making this kind of program a part of your business, there are plenty of resources available to get you started:

  • Stakes Manufacturing
  • CEVEC: Stakes’ partner for school-to-work transition program for high school seniors with disabilities
  • National Fragile X Foundation: Jed is a board member and joins them to lobby Capitol Hill to enact policy changes to support individuals with disabilities and their employment
  • SEEC: Jed is also a board member for SEEC — they provide job counselors and support for his brother and hundreds of other disabled individuals in the Maryland and DC area
  • CEO Commission: Started by National Down Syndrome Society to be a source of research and information, actionable steps, and advocacy opportunities for member companies to recruit and onboard individuals with disabilities into their organizations; Jed is a member
  • APSE: The Association of People Supporting Employment First is the only national membership organization focused exclusively on Employment First to facilitate the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace and community
  • Project Search: A global organization with school-to-work programs setup all over; Jed works with them in DC through their partnership with SEEC, Hilton, and Embassy Suites