Mother’s Day is one that always tugs at the heartstrings, so we thought you’d enjoy these uplifting stories of maternal perseverance and the helping hands that support it.
First, from Greyston Bakery: All Shawna Swanson (a Yonkers resident) wanted was a chance to work. But this single mother of five’s child-care responsibilities and lack of work experience were holding her back. Constantly rejected by employers, she was desperate to find the means to keep her family together – so much so, she thought about giving up her children for adoption.
Then she heard about Greyston Bakery and applied for a job, never thinking she’d actually get one. Greyston never asked her for her résumé, did no background check, asked no questions – just offered her a job and some training. That’s because Greyston’s Open Hiring business model – and heart and soul mission – is to provide employment and no-cost development programs to anyone in need. The object is to turn lives around.
“Our mission is about how we can unleash the power of human potential through more inclusive hiring practices,” says Joe Kenner, Greyston’s CEO. “We have been leading this effort with our Open Hiring model since 1982. Stories like Shawna’s embody our mission. My hope is that others will join us on this great journey.”
But the story doesn’t end there. Swanson’s inspiring experience has been captured in a new documentary, “Wide Open Dreams,” created by Paulina Jaskiewicz, that will be released on May 18 via a virtual premier party and fundraiser to benefit Greyston’s workforce development and community wellness programs.
“The film wasn’t merely a school assignment,” says Jaskiewicz, a Westchester Community College student who discovered Greyston as a member of WCC’s “Commit to Change” group. “This was my way of inspiring others to use their talents to better society and help those in need. When I met Shawna and heard about her struggles and her success, I knew hers was the story I wanted to tell.”
Jaskiewicz was moved to learn more about the organization’s mission and use her talents to show others how businesspeople can change lives. “I couldn’t imagine how a business could be successful by hiring anyone who asked for a job,” she says. “After doing some research and learning more about Greyston’s mission, I knew that other companies should be doing something like this.”
“Wide Open Dreams” will be released on May 17 at 7 p.m. via Zoom for the film premiere, followed by a panel discussion about how companies can create change in the communities where they do business. Panelists will include Swanson, Jaskiewicz, Kenner and Cheryl Pinto, global values-based sourcing manager at Ben & Jerry’s – Greyston’s long-term partner. The registration fee for the event is $150 per person. For more, visit wideopendreamsfilm.com.
Now we hear from The Arc Westchester, the largest agency in the county supporting individuals with developmental disabilities. The organization, which aids 2,000 individuals each day, began in 1949 with a $3 ad that was placed in the New York Post by Ann Greenberg, who was looking for playmates for her child with a developmental disability. In April of that year, a small group of equally frustrated mothers and fathers gathered at the Mount Vernon Public Library to discuss ways of helping their children. It was in this gathering that the work of The Arc Westchester was born.
Throughout its 72-year history, there have been numerous mothers whose love and fierce advocacy for their children have contributed to the growth and success of the organization. As their children have grown older, these moms have helped ensure that The Arc Westchester will be there to provide life-changing services for individuals with developmental disabilities as well as their families:
– Virginia Donovan’s involvement with The Arc Westchester began when her daughter Karen was a young child. Donovansearched for a proper placement for Karen, who had special needs, but was repeatedly turned away by schools and service providers. As Donovan said, “The Arc Westchester said ‘yes’ when everyone else said ‘no.’” After only three months at The Children’s School for Early Development, Karen (who was nonverbal when she joined the program), sang at the Christmas dinner table. She went on to graduate on time from White Plains High School and even learned to drive a car, accomplishments that Donovan attributes to the foundation she received from The Children’s School. In 2017, Donovan established The Virginia Donovan Charitable Fund, a $5 million donor-advised fund to benefit The Arc Westchester. This gift will allow The Arc to create in perpetuity opportunities for individuals and families supported by The Arc.
– Susan Walker and her husband John became involved with The Arc Westchester in 1981 when their daughter Elizabeth (Liz) graduated from high school and transitioned into The Arc’s vocational program. Susan Walker gave more than three decades of her time and passion to The Arc Westchester and its foundation, which included serving as a chapter board member, as one of the first members of the foundation’s board of directors and board advisers and as a member of The Founder’s Club. She also ensured her support of the organization would live on with a generous Legacy of Love gift prior to her passing in 2020.
– Emily Perl Kingsley, known for her work as a writer on “Sesame Street” from 1970 to 2015, is the mother of Jason, who was born with Down syndrome. When he was 2, Jason was enrolled in The Children’s School for Early Development, which began a decades long relationship between Kingsley and The Arc. Jason currently lives in one of its group homes and has a job through the organization’s employment program. A steadfast advocate for inclusion, Kingsley is a champion for all mothers of children with developmental disabilities and The Arc’s mission.
For more, visit arcwestchester.org.