Randy Lewis

Randy Lewis

MARYVILLE, Mo. — Lettuce Dream, a Maryville-based nonprofit greenhouse operation that grows and markets hydroponic lettuce while providing post-secondary vocational training to people with cognitive and developmental disabilities, will host a workshop Thursday, Oct. 3, focusing on ways to leverage the talents of a diverse workforce.

The event will take place from 8 a.m. until around 4:30 p.m. at the Mozingo Lake Recreation Park Conference Center.

Randy Lewis, a former senior vice president with the Walgreens pharmacy chain and the father of a son with autism, will deliver the keynote address at the conference at 10 a.m. His remarks are titled, “No Greatness Without Goodness.”

Other speakers scheduled to take the podium during the daylong workshop are Jill Brown, director of partnerships and placement at Northwest Missouri State University; Darla Wilkerson, executive director of Disability: In GKC, an organization that seeks to advance disability inclusion in the workplace and marketplace; Kim Anderson, director of employment for the Center for Human Services; Judy Grainger, vice president of UCP Heartland, an agency serving people diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury and age-related disabilities; Milton Dupard, an employment specialist with Preferred Family Healthcare; and Kim Thompson, a licensed nursing home supervisor.

The conference will begin with registration and breakfast to be followed at 9 a.m. by a welcome from Northwest Missouri State President John Jasinski. Other highlights are to include an afternoon panel discussion and question-and-answer session led by Wilkerson, Grainger, Lewis and Dupard.

Keynoter Lewis is a nationally prominent speaker and the author of a book — also titled “No Greatness Without Goodness” — that addresses the challenges and rewards of creating workplaces in which employees with disabilities are allowed to reach their full potential.

After observing the hurdles faced by his son, including lower pay, Lewis said he decided to create a model for an effective, inclusive workforce in an effort to “disprove the misconception that people with disabilities cannot perform well at work.”

The project was pioneered by Walgreens, which, Lewis said, “didn’t lower the bar when it came to performance” but did “open the door wider to include those who are routinely overlooked. The results exceeded our wildest expectations.”  

Lewis began developing his inclusion model following construction of a heavily automated distribution center, which, he discovered, facilitated the hiring of more workers coping with disabilities.

Retiring from Walgreens in 2013, Lewis wrote “No Greatness” the following year. His work has been praised by, among others, Temple Grandin, an animal science professor at Colorado State University and one of the first individuals on the autism spectrum to publicly share insights from her personal experience.

Grandin called Lewis’ book “must-read for everyone in business school.”  

In his crusade to create diverse workplaces open to employees of all abilities, Lewis said a key step for managers is to remember they are running a business and not a charity. Walgreens, he said, continues to hold high expectations for workers with disabilities, requiring that they meet the same standards as their colleagues.

In addition to the drugstore chain, Lewis’ model for inclusive employment has been implemented by such companies as Procter & Gamble, Lowe’s and UPS.

“Once you see a person with a disability as you, not them, other things fade away,” he said.

Diane Francis, president of the Lettuce Dream board, said that while the event is aimed at business and civic leaders, human resources professionals, educators and service providers, almost anyone will benefit from the experience, including the parents and loved ones of people with disabilities.

In addition to workers coping with handicaps, Francis said Lewis’ model can create a more efficient and effective workplace for all employees, including older workers, through such techniques as pairing and step-by-step task analysis.

“Wherever this has been implemented,” she said, “all the workers, not just those with disabilities, seem to say, ‘Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?’” 

Cost to attend the seminar is $90 until Sept. 15 and $110 thereafter. Register online at Eventbrite at www.randylewismaryville.eventbrite.com.

Following his workshop presentation, Lewis is also scheduled to deliver this year’s Ploghoft Diversity Lecture at Northwest Missouri State University, which will take place at 7 p.m. on the same day as the conference, location to be announced. 

For more information, or to help sponsor the Leveraging Talents of a Diverse Workforce workshop, call Lettuce Dream at 660-224-2203 or email www.lettucedream.org.

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Staff writer Anthony Brown can be reached at tbrown@maryvilledailyforum.com or by calling the newspaper at 660.562.2424.