November 23, 2020

Celebrating Abilities: Brad Ostwald Thrives at West Bend Cenex Store

Brad Ostwald and store manager Lisa Bruellman

Need a little pick-me-up? If you stop by MaxYield Cooperative’s Cenex store in West Bend, you can’t help but smile when you meet Brad Ostwald.

“Someone may be having a bad day, but when they see Brad, he turns their whole day around,” said Lisa Bruellman, store manager.

Ostwald is also setting new standards for people with disabilities. Ostwald, who has mild Down syndrome, has become a valued MaxYield team member, thanks to a unique partnership between the cooperative and Exceptional Opportunities, an organization in Burt and Algona that serves people with disabilities.

For the past two years, Ostwald has worked at the West Bend Cenex store every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Whittemore resident helps restock supplies from coffee cups to window washer fluid, in addition to sweeping and mopping the floor, cleaning tables and more. “Brad is a hard worker who’s focused on getting the job done,” Bruellman said.
Not only does Ostwald know all the coffee crowd regulars by name, but he loves to talk and joke with clients. This die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan also keeps everyone updated about his favorite NFL team. “Brad is very personable,” Bruellman said. “He can also take grief from his friends and give it right back.”

Having a job at MaxYield has been a huge blessing for Ostwald. “Brad is a people person and enjoys his team members and MaxYield’s clients,” said Beth Buscherfeld, Ostwald’s sister who manages MaxYield’s Cenex store in Whittemore. “This job opportunity has given Brad more independence, a bigger circle of acquaintances and more self-worth.”

Connecting with the community

Integrating people with disabilities into the community can be life changing for everyone involved.

“The MaxYield Cenex store has been a wonderful opportunity for Brad,” said Rodney Davis, director of employment services for Exceptional Opportunities, which serves approximately 100 disabled adults in the Kossuth County area. “It’s a great environment that fits Brad’s skill set and allows him to complete meaningful work. He’s also having fun, and so are the people he serves.”

Finding employment opportunities like this reflects a move away from traditional “sheltered employment,” where people with disabilities gathered at a center to work on projects like recycling. Today, these people are placed in actual work environments where they interact with a wide range of people. “I look at this as one of the biggest civil rights’ movements for people with disabilities,” Davis said. “I also applaud companies like MaxYield for offering employment for these folks.”

MaxYield was happy to explore employment options when Exceptional Opportunities approached the company a few years ago. “Giving back is part of our culture,” said Diane Streit, MaxYield’s human resource director. “We’re glad to help someone who is willing to work hard.”

When Ostwald started working at MaxYield, a mentor accompanied him throughout the training process and helped the MaxYield team learn how to work with Ostwald. Now that Ostwald is more experienced, staff from Exceptional Opportunities check in with Ostwald and MaxYield’s Cenex team regularly to make sure things are going well.

“While Brad was very quiet at first and wouldn’t ask for help, now he has opened up,” said Bruellman, who noted that Ostwald has an amazing memory. “Brad is having the time of his life working here, and we’re glad to have him.”

Ostwald has been given more responsibilities over time. “Brad is the boss on Fridays and gets to decide who mops the floor,” Bruellman noted. “We want to make him feel special.”

Helping people grow and succeed

While some of Ostwald’s tasks may seem repetitive, they are comforting to someone with a disability, said Davis, who noted that Ostwald loves coming to work. “Brad has benefited in so many ways from MaxYield,” Davis added. “His speech and communication skills have improved, along with his decision-making skills and sense of independence.”

Clients look forward to seeing Ostwald at the Cenex store. “Everyone in town knows Brad,” Bruellman said. “When he isn’t there, people notice.”

Ostwald’s family appreciates MaxYield’s willingness to give him the opportunity to earn a paycheck. “Brad has always held a job throughout his adult life and would be lost without one,” Buscherfeld said. “He also doesn’t like to miss any days at work. S-N-O-W is a bad, four-letter word in his vocabulary.”

This kind of work ethic is impressive, Streit said. “Brad is raising the bar at MaxYield. He’s always positive and happy and is such a joy for our team members and clients.”

Davis is grateful for employers like MaxYield that support Exceptional Opportunities. “People with disabilities want to feel like they are earning their paychecks and making a difference. It’s exciting to see how MaxYield is helping Brad grow and succeed.”

Making a Positive Difference
While Exceptional Opportunities had eight disabled adults employed in 12 locations a little over a year ago, this has now increased to 35 people in 24 locations in north-central Iowa, thanks to partners like MaxYield Cooperative.

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