Shell Gas in Bend: Committed to Employing People of Different Abilities

Because everyone deserves a chance

 When you ask Alan Perez what he likes most about working at the Shell station on highway 20 in Bend, he’ll tell you he likes stocking shelves and making things look better. He hopes to someday pursue a career in acting, but for now, he’s enjoying the opportunity to make friends and help out.  

 “It’s actually pretty great,” he said about the job he’s been in for about three months with support from the High Desert Transition Co-op, and Shell station owner Kizar Couch.

 

A long history of creating opportunity

Perez is part of a long history of employing people with diverse abilities at this Shell Station. This spring, Couch and his team were recognized by Employment First, a coalition of organizations and state agencies working to develop a wider variety of employment for people with I/DD. In appreciation of the accepting, flexible work atmosphere and the opportunities for students to try a variety of job tasks, Couch received a hand-crafted glass plate award and certificate of appreciation.

Employment First partners with over fifty Central Oregon businesses who provide opportunities to transition students and adults with I/DD. The process begins when job developers assess students’ strengths and skills, and match them to job requirements. The job developers provide employee training, and ongoing support is available as long as necessary.

As Couch explained, offering opportunities to young adults with disabilities fits their business philosophy.

“Our goal is to make a positive impact on our community. We want every customer to leave happier than when they arrived. That happens through the customer service our employees provide. But it also happens when we give people a chance to be part of our team. Everyone deserves a chance,” said Couch.

Couch, along with his father, has co-owned the Shell Gas Station for over twenty years. Around 2007, Couch recalled, they met Jimmy, a young man with Down Syndrome. Jimmy liked the friendly atmosphere at the station and asked for a job.

“We liked him too, but we didn’t have a job available. But everyone deserves a chance to work, so we created a new position. Jimmy washed the windshields for people who stopped at the store for soda or snacks. He loved the job and customers loved the service—they would tip Jimmy like crazy!” said Couch.

Then Couch learned about the support available for people with disabilities, like job coaching and tax incentives to offset the extra cost of creating new positions and extra training hours. That support made it easier to stay involved with service organizations like Good2Go and Abilitree. Over the years, he has provided internships and paid employment to over forty transition students and adults with disabilities. They tailor duties to match strengths: Some employees, like Jimmy, thrive on connecting with people. Others, like Allen, may be more detail oriented. Stocking coolers and keeping the inventory tidy is an important area of the business where they find success.

 

Employing transition students is a win-win strategy

As a business owner, Couch sees the contribution that transition students bring to his team—especially when hiring is difficult. Customers at the gas station also recognize the importance of hiring people with diverse abilities and appreciate a business that provides opportunities, he noted.

His advice for other businesses considering hiring transition students? Take time to look into the support available. “Job coaches and financial incentives are a big deal. They balance out any challenges with extra training hours. But honestly I would continue hiring these guys and gals even with no support, because they have added so much to our team,” he said 

“Helping a person grow their capacity feels really good. I’ll always make space for this in our business. This is what it means to be a business owner—giving people a chance to be productive and be part of a team. Otherwise they get lost in the shuffle. If every person with a disability could find their opportunity, that would start a ripple effect through the whole community.”