“I have a positive attitude.”
“I’m always on time to work.”
“I don’t quit.”
These are just a few phrases highlighted in the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress’ new public awareness campaign, Your Next Star, aimed at opening the eyes of employers to the power of people with Down syndrome in the workplace.
John Dunleavy, an employee with TD Garden — a subsidiary of Delaware North — for the past five years, stars in the campaign’s video, along with Executive Director of the Boston Bruins Foundation Bob Sweeney. The video features individuals with Down syndrome and their employers.
For their work with the initiative, Dunleavy and the Bruins recently received the “Exemplary Employee Award” and “Exemplary Employer Award” during UMass Medical School’s “Work Without Limits” conference on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at Four Points by Sheraton in Norwood, Mass.
The Bruins and TD Garden received the award for their leadership in hiring individuals with disabilities and advancing workplace diversity.
“This is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month and with the Next Star program, it’s a very big time,” said Sweeney, who has been involved with the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress for more than 12 years with the Boston Bruins Foundation and Boston Bruins Alumni.
“Every time I watch that video, the key phrases that resonate with me, with kids like John, is always a smile on their face, they always come to work on time and they’re so committed to their work,” Sweeney said. “And John, he’s very deserving of this award.”
Dunleavy first began working for TD Garden five years ago through Lorraine Spadaro, who has led the technology and digital advancements for TD Garden for more than 20 years. During his time, he's even had a chance to give the Bruins a pep talk in the locker room before a game.
“Every day, he comes in, he has a smile on his face, he’s got that positive attitude and he just brings up the morale of our employees,” said Sweeney. “He takes his job so seriously and I think if all of us can take a little bit of his enthusiasm, I think we’re all going to be better employees.”
Dunleavy can often be seen around the Garden’s break room during lunchtime. He brightens the day of every employee he encounters.
“Thank you. It means a lot to me and my family,” Dunleavy said in his remarks after receiving the award in front of hundreds of business men and women who are part of Work Without Limits, a statewide network of employers and collaborative partners that aims to increase employment among individuals with disabilities.
“I want to thank my mom and dad. I want to also thank all of you guys,” said Dunleavy, who also thanked Bruins President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney.
His time not working is spent following Bruins’ updates and watching the games, both in attendance at TD Garden (where he can be seen pumping up the crowd) and at his home when the team is away.
The goal of Work Without Limits is to position Massachusetts as the first state in the nation where the employment rates of people with disabilities are equal to those of people without disabilities.
“That’s incredibly important,” said Maureen Gallagher, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress. “Only about a third of people with intellectual disabilities who are qualified to work have a job, so there are 5,000 people with Down syndrome in Massachusetts and I there are about 3,000 people who still need meaningful positions in the community.”
“So the fact that Work Without Limits is honoring employers to highlight what people with disabilities can contribute is incredibly meaningful and I think will change lives.”
Dunleavy’s experience at TD Garden is a testament to the value that those with disabilities can provide to organizations and co-workers.
“I know how much they care about the Down syndrome community and how they truly believe in the incredible power that people have with Down syndrome,” Gallagher said of Dunleavy and Bob Sweeney accepting the awards. “And how they can really enhance the workplace, so it couldn’t have been a more special moment for all of us at MDSC.”
The Bruins’ involvement with MDSC also includes an alumni hockey game every year, where Dunleavy serves as head coach of MDSC’s team, and the hosting of a Down Syndrome Awareness Day during a Bruins’ home game. They have also teamed up with Liam Fitzgerald, the young Bruins fan with Down syndrome who has become lovingly known as the “Fist Bump Kid.”
As a “self-advocate” of MDSC who is proving himself as a leader, Dunleavy and other individuals with disabilities in Massachusetts are helping paving the way for children like Fitzgerald.
“It’s wonderful for John and other self advocates his age, who are showing the world what they can do and now younger people like Liam can actually aspire to — the sky’s the limit,” said Gallagher. “They can have any kind of a job based on what they want to do, and we’re here to change that.”
“This award basically encourages all employers to consider hiring a person with Down syndrome or other intellectual developmental disabilities to really diversify the workforce.”
As Down Syndrome Awareness Month is celebrated throughout October, the National Down Syndrome Society reminds all of us: “It’s not about celebrating disabilities, it’s about celebrating abilities.”