John Boemio is saving up for a cruise and Cheryl Jackson is eying a trip to Lake George. Maryann Stuck has her heart set on the Catskills.
As adults with developmental disabilities, John, Cheryl and Maryann are receiving a paycheck for the first time in their lives. For them and several other coworkers working at Good Reasons, a dog treat company based in Brewster, this is their first real job.
“It’s really about seeing their enthusiasm,” founder Vicki Sylvester said at their commercial kitchen on a recent visit. “It’s really special, they’re so excited. They don’t want to miss a day and they feel good about coming here and good about their work.”
During the day, Vicki is the CEO of Community Based Services, which provides individuals with disabilities residential and community-based programs across the Hudson Valley region. After attending a meeting at the New York State Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, Vicki was inspired by a “call to action” for agencies to get involved with helping individuals find employment.
Combining her longtime passion for helping the disabled community and her love of animals, Good Reasons was born and began producing treats in July 2014. The company, which operates under Community Based Services, is an integrated workplace where adults with and without disabilities work side by side.
“We thought this is something we could probably handle and it’s something that they could be a part of,” Vicki said. “The industry of animal anything is a flooded market, but it’s not a flooded market for people with a mission. That was going to be our niche, which is the employment of people with disabilities in an integrated way.”
Longtime friend Allan Katz, a Culinary Institute of America graduate and a longtime owner of a restaurant in Millbrook, New York, oversaw recipe development. The company works hard to create a healthy option, Allan said of the ingredients that include natural peanut butter, coconut oil, barley flour, blueberries and pumpkin.
“We’ve eaten them all,” Vicki laughed.
“It’s a high quality product with a high quality mission,” Allan added.
In addition to running the culinary side of the operation, Allan also oversees the commissary at the Brewster location for the nine residences run by Community Based Services, supplying them with food, hygiene products and cleaning products every week.
Good Reasons is now in over 30 retail locations in the Hudson Valley and will be in 13 Hannafords stores within the month. Whole Foods is also on the horizon. Barkbox, the monthly dog product subscription service, will feature the product later this year. The company packages up to 600 bags a day. In addition to the facility in Brewster, Good Reasons also has a factory in Poughkeepsie and produces a total of six different flavors.
And the company is only expected to expand.
“Our employment capacity is really going to grow,” Vicki said. She expects to be able to employ an additional 15 to 20 workers with projected growth and is looking to reach out to the wider community of individuals with disabilities who either live with their parents or on their own who might want a job.
This set of employees have been working there for a few months now and even got a raise their first week, Vicki laughed. Minimum wage increased within days of employees coming onboard.
Working at Good Reasons gives the employees with disabilities a sense of purpose and responsibility, Vicki said. Many of the individuals take a paratransit bus and are responsible for getting themselves to and from work. But when they’re not at Good Reasons, they enjoy bowling, swimming and going out to eat.
“I love my job,” Maryann said as she cut out dog-bone shaped treats. Next to her Yvette Gilchrist asked for another piece of dough to work with and explained the baking process. Tino Reyes and Krist Thaqi, who do not have disabilities, rolled her out a new piece of dough and commented on what a charmer Maryann can be.
It was a typical work place where the end of the day always closes with music and singing; John knows all the words to the songs. When asked where he might like to take a cruise, John’s answer was straight to the point: “Anywhere!”