The Larrabee Center has recognized Wartburg College Dining Services as a 2022 Inclusive Employer.

Since 2015 the college has partnered with the Larrabee Center, an organization that assists people with disabilities and the elderly on their journey to becoming or remaining valued and independent members of the community. The college last received this recognition in 2019.

“Wartburg has been a great community partner for us. Not only have we sent work crews there to get on-the-job experience, but our clients have been able to participate in tours and informational interviews when they are trying to decide on their next steps,” said Jessica Gulick, associate director of the Larrabee Center.

The center’s employment program originated at Trinkets & Togs, a thrift store operated by the organization. By partnering with local businesses, Larrabee clients have the opportunity to test out new careers and learn new job skills.

Marty Johnson, director of Wartburg’s Dining Services, said the partnership has proven just as valuable for the college as it has for the Larrabee Center and its clients.

“We have a crew working in Mensa (the student cafeteria) every Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. They do everything from wiping down tables to behind-the-scenes work like dish washing,” Johnson said. “They get to learn new skills that can help them grow socially and professionally, and we get help during the times when we don’t have as many students who can work.”

In some cases, the Larrabee Center clients have left the organization’s work program and taken part-time jobs in Dining Services.

“In some cases these individuals develop a great rapport with the students and the staff and they have a such a great work ethic that it just makes sense to hire them,” Johnson said. “Some are quiet and like to stay behind the scenes, but some are very social and have great relationships with our students. And our staff enjoys having them here too. We appreciate them and the help they provide.”

Building on the success of the Larrabee Center partnership, Johnson said his department has cultivated similar relationships with the Denver Community School District and Inclusion Connection, a Cedar Valley nonprofit that connects individuals with differing abilities with organizations that encourage all to live, work and play together.

“In many cases, our clients had never worked out in the community. These partnerships give them the opportunity to experience different jobs and see if it is something they have the skills and interest to pursue as a career,” Gulick said. “Some love it, and some realize it’s not for them. But at the end of the day they are able to take that experience – and maybe a professional reference – to the next opportunity.”


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