Why Mr. Canary isn’t just for the Birds

In 1995 my sister, Chrissy, and I started a business. Well, truthfully that statement is taking a lot of ‘poetic license’ with the term business. We incorporated, for sure; but we had a long way to go to be able to call it a business.

What happened was we inadvertently sold a whole bunch of bird feeders to Kmart without actually owning the feeder we sold them, or knowing how to make it, or what was in it or, well, virtually without knowing Anything about it. Or about the industry. Or about having a ‘business.’ It’s a long story.

But, because of our accidentally successful launch (1,800 stores, year ‘round, auto-replenishment – sweeeet, right?) we had a huge and immediate problem: HOW TO MAKE THE BIRDFEEDERS. Oh, I suppose we naively believed if worse came to worse we could build them ourselves, which shone a light on another weakness in our plan: neither of us were very ‘mathy.’ So when someone finally did take pen to paper, it became startlingly apparent we did not have space, skill, or time to do it.

That’s when Chrissy saved the day.

Because of her former life as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the State of Indiana, Chrissy knew of an organization in our hometown that provided job training and work opportunities for people with disabilities. We contacted the organization, explained our plight, left them a bird feeder and asked for a quote to build the bird feeders. A few days later, they called us back with a number, we accepted it, they made the feeders, and we started down the road to having a real business.

Why is that on my mind today?

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and that’s important to me because since that very first order way back in 1995, every bird feeder we’ve sold has been made by men and women with moderate to severe disability. They overcome stunning obstacles to build, pack and ship our orders 5 days a week all year long with first-rate quality, on time, to the largest retailers in America.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact this experience of working together has had on my life. If you want to feel inspired, joyful, grateful and awed – in your WORK LIFE – I can tell you how to begin your transition. In addition to the most unstoppable, adaptively creative, and thankful-to-have-a-JOB production team, the support staff at the Arc of Greater Boone County, who make it all possible are truly unsung heroes.

Learn more about our team on our website to see how we operate in partnership with the Arc of Greater Boone County in Lebanon, Indiana and why, no matter how much I go on, I can never express it the way it feels to be part of this collaboration. My team of self-proclaimed “Bad Ass Bird Feeder Builders’ is the fuel and the heart of this operation.

In these last days of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, I’m adding a little more attention to the topic, by relating the powerful effect and humbling influence that comes from sharing work and friendship with dynamic people who, also, have disabilities.

We can learn a lot from each other; we just have to be aware of the opportunities to do it. For more information, contact us.

Author: Jan Long

Published: March 28, 2019

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