Breaking Ground 94 - Tyler Bates: An “Employment and Community First” Success Story

by Jonathan Lawrence, ECF CHOICES Support Coordinator, BlueCare Tennessee

When he enrolled in the Employment and Community First (ECF) CHOICES program in 2016, Tyler Bates received support to find his first job at Buffalo Wild Wings rolling silverware. After two successful years, he lost his job due to restructuring. Tyler and his mother were unsure what to do next, so his ECF CHOICES Support Coordinator, Jonathan Lawrence, and Tyler’s personal assistant (funded through ECF to support Tyler achieve his goals and live more independently), James Noar, discussed options with the family.

“Discovery”, an ECF service which helps members identify their interests and skills related to employment, was suggested as a starting point.

After considering different types of jobs, Tyler decided that he wanted to work in the food industry as a prep cook. When Tyler began learning new cooking skills, his original goal was to help his mom fix dinner. Because Tyler’s first reaction when asked to try new things had typically been, “maybe next year”, James’ plan was to teach Tyler cooking in a fun way so he wouldn’t think of it as “working on something new”. James approached it as if he was teaching a good friend how to cook, and relied on Tyler’s love of the computer to show him how to find recipes and cooking videos.

Soon Tyler began finding new recipes on his own, and so James began teaching him how to shop for the necessary ingredients. A little uneasy at first, Tyler quickly mastered the skill of grocery shopping, and James helped him prepare dinner for his family on Friday evenings. Tyler’s mother, Paige, said, “[James] saw Tyler’s potential even when I had my doubts and concerns about [Tyler] working in a kitchen environment.”

James worked with Tyler regularly on tasks that would help him get a job in a kitchen; from making dough to portioning items, frying different foods, washing dishes, making a pizza, etc. With support from James, Tyler also learned how to create a menu, take inventory of his pantry, make a grocery list and pay for the groceries.

Tyler went for a “hands-on” interview at Pizza Hut in Clarksville and, although the tasks at Pizza Hut were slightly different from the ones he had practiced at home, they were still similar enough. When Tyler tried out the job, James could easily give him some simple directions, and Tyler picked things up quickly. “James made sure that the manager knew what to expect from Tyler, and they were able to carve out a position that matched [Tyler’s] skills,” explained Paige.
That experience turned into a successful interview and Tyler landed the job. He has been working at Pizza Hut since January 2018 and currently works 15-20 hours each week. Paige asked Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) to provide job coaching support for a month or two. VR did just that, and was able to phase out after only four shifts of coaching Tyler on the job.

Pizza Hut staff and the manager now provide any training Tyler needs. His manager created visual “cheat sheets” for Tyler that can be followed to complete any of the required tasks.

Tyler enjoys working and feels it gives him a sense of purpose. He likes the extra money to pay for things he wants. “I know how to do my job good because it is easy,” Tyler said.

Tyler’s skills continue to grow, and he has taken on more responsibilities at Pizza Hut. Tyler will now actively look for things to do at work to keep him busy, even if they’re new tasks he needs to learn – replacing the whole “maybe next year” reluctance. “His first tasks included preparing the pizza sauce cups, making garlic bread knots and washing dishes,” reported Paige. “James and his staff made sure Tyler had great natural support there from coworkers and his manager and were able to fade out the job coaching services after only a month. Since then they have added new duties, including portioning chicken wings and folding pizza boxes.”

Management at Pizza Hut is very pleased with Tyler and appreciates his company. With support from his ECF CHOICES staff, Tyler was able to learn skills at home and become very comfortable with those skills, which worked to his advantage and resulted in a job that he enjoys. As a result, Tyler has discovered he can do much more than roll silverware; he can be a prep person at Pizza Hut, which promises him significant growth potential for the future.