FAIRMONT - People with disabilities face more challenges than others in the job market. So when a company not only takes a chance but also offers them extra support, it deserves recognition.
"I've nominated Torgerson Properties before, but this year they are being honored as ARC Minnesota's Employer of the Year," says LeeAnn Erickson, director of ARC Southwest in Fairmont. "To be the employer of the year for ARC, we recognize businesses that realize that people with disabilities are good employees and make the effort to employ them, and if they needed a little extra support, they will do that."
One reason Torgerson is being recognized is the longevity of one of its employees.
"Bruce Thompson has been with Perkins restaurant for nearly 25 years," Erickson said. "A number of times, within two to five years, there's a management change and jobs get eliminated. Or the new people that come on are not comfortable with people with disabilities, or the job description 'changes,' and the person is let go. So being almost 25 years at the same job is unusual."
"I get along with everybody, and it's a good-paying job," Thompson said. "They keep giving me raises. They've been supportive and there's been recognition."
Along with retaining people with disabilities, Torgerson Properties has hired some younger people with disabilities through the local school's career exploration program. That is how Suzanne Sukalski got her job as a morning hostess at the Hampton Inn. After volunteering at the Holiday Inn for three years, and being observed by other Holiday Inn employees, she was given an application for the hostess position at the Hampton Inn.
"Angie Garbers recommended Suzanne as a great match for the hospitality business," said Suzanne's mother, Diane Sukalski, in an essay recommending Torgerson Properties for the honor. "General manager Jason Subbert had seen Suzanne's graduation picture in the Sentinel with her post-graduation plans to include work. She came home one day with an employment application; I assumed it was for practice. But she was scheduled to have an interview."
"The experience allowed us to see that Suzanne had the right kind of personality to be out with the guests," Subbert said. "When we have these students, we're also looking for potential future employees."
"I have noticed that Torgerson tries to fit people with positions that work with their personalities," Erickson said.
One of the newest members to the Torgerson Properties team, Milena Sewill, transferred from MRCI.
"They told me they were giving up one of their best cleaners, so we had to treat her well," said Gina Carroll, supervisor of housekeeping at the Holiday Inn and Super 8 hotels.
As it turns out, many of the directors and supervisors in Torgerson Properties of Fairmont have had experiences with people with disabilities, from working with places such as REM and STEP Inc., to having family members or friends who have disabilities.
"They've all made that extra effort to make it work," Erickson said.