“We are doing this out of love and although many agencies have great intentions, you cannot legislate love. We are here to offer the best that we can to all we serve because we love them.”
–Shari Hunter

We often hear about a mother’s love—so powerful, infinite, unconditional. When you meet Shari Hunter, you not only see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice, when you visit Two & Company, you get to experience the incredible life-changing outcomes that her love is cultivating every day.

That experience begins with the Café at Two & Company. The space is warm and inviting. You see a hand-chalked menu board. You hear the familiar sounds of expresso machines and a staff busy taking care of customers. What you may not notice is that this bustling café also serves as training opportunity for people of every ability. One that focuses less on limitations and more on possibilities. Which is exactly what Shari aims to provide.

Shari’s efforts have grown to include the Café, Shops, Services and The Two Foundation, which together are collectively known as Two & Company. Her vision for this ever-expanding collection of services can be summarized in three simple, hopeful, empowering words. Life without labels.

“We are not a special place for special people. I think we are very different because we start at a different place than most agencies or service providers. We start with inclusion, rather than segregation, and build in the supports needed for each individual’s success. Every person is here for a reason, and we exist to help them find their purpose. Our philosophy is inclusion through and through. We believe to our core that we are all people who belong together, and we are all better for it.”

With Shari and her three children at the helm, Two & Company continues working to alter traditional mindsets and break down stigmas and stereotypes in the workplace and in the communities beyond.

“One person, family, school, business and community at a time, we can change the future for those we love and serve. That is our ultimate goal and dream.” With the love of an incredible family and the support of a willing community there’s no limit to what Two & Company can accomplish. Shari agrees, “We’ve set our sights on achieving a beautiful, inclusive future. We’re determined to get there. And we know we can do it better together.”

“It is such a privilege to be able to serve, work with, 
and connect all of the different people involved in this 
process. I get to see first-hand the life-changing impact 
on the individual and families, the culture changing impact 
within companies, and in our community. It proves that 
we all do life better together.” – Christian Hunter, VP Operations

The Two & Company team has collected story after story about the successes, connections and friendships that have blossomed thanks to participation in the camps and programs they offer.

Recently, a mom of a camper shared her appreciation for the lasting friendships her daughter made through her Job Readiness camp. Before attending, her daughter had a hard time making friends. Afterward, she was invited to her first birthday party as well as her first movie night with friends. Hearing from former students and their parents about the successes they are experiencing warms Shari’s heart. “Nothing makes us happier than to hear our graduates or campers are experiencing relationships that are enriching their lives in so many ways.”

Beyond personal growth opportunities, the team can share many stories of their graduates finding professional success. BJ, for example, who was struggling to find opportunities and began to fall into negative habits as a result. Once he began training at the Café, BJ immediately felt a sense of belonging and worked hard to learn and complete every responsibility. Every day he continued proving to the staff and to himself just how capable of an employee he could be. Today, BJ works at a large hotel chain and has shared many exceptional reports. Adds Shari, “The pride on his face and his newfound purpose is all we need to keep us moving forward.”

The effects of the programs and interactions at Two & Company are impactful in so many ways. From first friendships, to meaningful and fulfilling careers opportunities to the regulars who swear by the delicious lattes and infamous tuna melts, grilled cheese and BLT sandwiches, the company you’ll find here is heart-warming. It’s also beyond compare.

Each quarter former graduates are invited back to the Café simply to socialize and catch up with friends, families and the Two & Company team. Derek enjoys hearing what’s going on in their new jobs and in their personal lives. “They came here as job-seekers, then, coworkers,” says Derek, “but they leave as friends.”

 

“Everyday is a joy and a gift.”
-Derek Hunter

Derek Hunter

“Welcome to the Two. Welcome to the family.”

 

That’s the way Derek Hunter greets new jobseekers and their families. His message comes straight from the heart, and it’s delivered with a contagiously warm and enthusiastic smile.

From the moment you hear Derek speak about the Café and all things Two, you know that it’s a special place. It would have to be – considering it was inspired by such an incredible person.

When Derek was born with Down syndrome, his mom, Shari, wanted to make sure that diagnosis didn’t limit his life choices. The Café, Shops, Foundation, and Services that make up Two & Company is proof that it didn’t. Together, Derek and his family created their own path. Sharing that journey and creating opportunities for others was a natural next step.

Deciding on a name, which was “a really big memory” for Derek, and he can readily quote the Bible verse that inspired it. ‘Two are better than one, for if either of them falls, one can help the other up.’ -Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. His drawing even became the logo and ever since, he has a hand in every aspect of the Two, as he calls it.

In addition to working with his family every day, which he loves, he enjoys his time with the job seekers, “coaching them along and seeing them succeeding – and I get a chance to learn from them too.”

“You wake up each day knowing that these guys will put a huge smile on your face,” Derek says, and he knows exactly how to do the same for the job-seekers.

“How’s mom and dad? How was your weekend?” he asks, because making “guys and ladies” feel welcome and feel loved is part of his job. He lets them know that even if they are nervous, “they are not alone. We can go through it together.”

“It’s our job to work alongside them to help them learn and grow. I love to see their smiling faces. To see them blossoming. So, they can be who they want to be and who God wants them to be.”

When he’s not teaching, Derek chats about his wife, Lauren, about being a proud uncle and about his favorite Café menu choices – the noodle bowl, the BLTs and, of course, the breakfast grilled cheese. When the topic of sampling bakery items came up, he laughed and said he’s “well-rounded” when it comes to his cookie preferences.

Derek looks forward to the chance for Two & Company to grow and reach out to more people in the community. He even has a bit of advice for those who’ve yet to visit or learn about what the Two has to offer. “Come in! They will love the experience. We would love it too.”

I met a mom at a United Way meeting who shared with me the challenges that her son was facing in the workplace after learning a bit about what we do at the Two Foundation.  She shared that he had graduated from a reputable technical college but because he was hearing impaired, he had not been able to secure a job in his field.  He ended working at a delicatessen which was very challenging since it was hard to hear across the counter.

We met with him and realized that he was losing confidence, very nervous because many customers were impatient with him.  We set up times to meet with him and worked on his resume, prepared for interviews, introduced him to our friends at HC Company. Within weeks, he was working on improvements for their manufacturing plant, full time with benefits.  We are thrilled to be able to come along side and be the bridge between one amazing graduate and one amazing business partner.

– Shari

We were approached by a middle age man that shared with us the challenges his sister-in-law was facing.  She had a condition that caused multiple seizures that left her unable to work for over 30 years. She finally received a medical procedure that successfully minimized her seizures so that she was able to function.  After 30 years, they were not sure how to reintroduce her to the workplace.

We were able to offer her a scholarship and she entered our training program. We set up an interview with one of our amazing business partners, Crumb and Spigot.  She was offered a job in their kitchen where she prepares food and completes other daily tasks. She is loyal, committed and so grateful for this opportunity to have her life back.  

– Shari

I had a parent call me to ask if their son could enter our job readiness training program since he was aging out of his high school at the age of 22.  He had several challenges but had a smile from ear to ear and was beyond excited to work.

We did a two-hour assessment to decide if we felt he could be ready for community employment upon graduation.  He impressed us with each task we asked him to perform. He surpassed all our expectations and works daily at a local Stone Oven bakery during their very busy lunch rush.

We were told that he may be the best employee the manager had ever hired.  We are so grateful that not only is he doing his job with excellence, but he is opening eyes and changing minds and hearts.

– Shari

I had a customer that would patronize the Two Café and Boutique at least once a month.  As I got to know him, he shared with me that he had a master’s degree in physics but had been unable to find a job for the last three years.  He struggled with social skills and lacked confidence when it came to his interviewing skills.

I had the owner of an energy company that frequented the café to meet with this individual to see if there might be a match.  This gentleman is now writing computer programming for this energy company.

So much of what we do is simply connecting individuals with specific skill sets and strengths to the right companies, and the right hearts and we have a winning combination!

– Shari

It is hard to believe that the Two Foundation is six years old and the Two Café and Boutique is over four and a half years old.

It is even harder to believe on a personal note, that my children are 30, 28 and 26 years old. Time has flown by and I cherish each age, stage and moment that I have with them. They have gone from babies to children to teenagers and now adults. My eldest has even transitioned into parenthood and what a joy that has been!

Life is full of transitions and if there is one word that describes the “What we do?” at the Two, it is TRANSITION. The word that describes the “Why we do it?” is HOPE.

In this post, I am going to focus on the Transition.

Our goal at the Two is to transition individuals into the work-place, after high school, or out of a segregated work setting. We know that this is where many of those we serve struggle the most. “What happens after high school,” is a question that we hear a lot. As a team, we strive to assess the strengths and interests of those that go through our job readiness program and then make a match with one of our amazing business partners. We are so proud of our graduates and their successes!

Beyond that mission, we want our community, and society to understand that we are NOT “a special place for special people”. We are all just people with strengths and weaknesses, working and doing life together. We are a place of business that models every day what a truly integrated community looks like, and we should be nothing unique. A place where all are embraced regardless of label or exceptionality. We all have something, and it is time we understand that.

As we embark on our children’s services, what an inspiration it is to watch as our teachers live out our motto, “Serving all Children, Embracing all Abilities”. It touches my heart to be able to offer parents a place where their child belongs regardless of diagnosis or label. Here, at the Two, they are not only welcomed but loved. Those “typical children” that attended our “Integrated Young Entrepreneurs” summer camp, will hopefully be searching for those in school this year that need a friend or an extra hand. These children will become the natural supports that will be needed in “tomorrows” workforce.

These are the outcomes that we are really after – a movement that will spread across the country – an understanding that we all need each other to do life best. That the things that make us different may be the very things needed to solve the challenges of today and tomorrow – that life is so much better when we do it TWOGETHER.

 

 

Ecclesiastes 4:9 and 10 (paraphrase): Two are better than one, when one falls down there is someone there to pick you up and the return for your labor is even greater.

-Shari

#fullyintegrate #integrate #jobplacement #jobreadiness

We love hearing from our Grads about how they have grown in their career journey. Here is a snapshot from one of our grads. Katie, we are so proud of what you have accomplished!

 

“Working at a home improvement store has taught me to act appropriately even when difficult, and self-regulate my behavior. Working in retail has given me an opportunity to practice my social skills in a professional environment. For that, I’m very grateful and for many of my supervisors and co-workers.

“I have appreciated all the current skills that my current job has taught me. I have grown personally and professionally, particularly thanks to my supervisor.”

– Katie

Just wondering how many parents got through the movie Wonder with dry eyes.  I know it was impossible for me to do as my third child was born with an exceptionality (aren’t we all😊).

The movie brought to light so many different perspectives from the viewpoint of the child, his parents, siblings, peers, other parents, school staff, and society.

It was heart-wrenching to watch as the child struggled to be brave and face his fears of rejection and ridicule as he started school.  It was beautiful to see how his confidence grew as he gained the strength and was ready to lose the mask and be okay it.

I couldn’t help but relate to Julia Roberts’ character as she struggled to integrate her son into society all the while knowing the pain that her son would experience.  I don’t believe there is much in life that compares to the heartache of a mom desperately wanting to protect their precious child from harm but realizing that it will come.  She must allow it to happen to a degree to get her child where he or she needs to be.  I am not a father, but I am sure the inward struggle is much the same.  The reward is great as the child comes through to the other side with new found confidence, compassion for others and strong character.

This movie brought to light for me what my two older children must have experienced throughout their childhood as I was very focused on making sure that all was okay for my youngest. 

I am forever grateful for two older children‘s understanding and unconditional love.  I know they are forever impacted by having such a special younger brother.  They are much of the reason my youngest is so amazing.

What a blessing the school principal and teacher were as they advocated with tender hearts and had compassion for their exceptional student.  I am so grateful for those educators that do all they can to help support, encourage and provide guidance as it is so desperately needed in our schools today.

Lastly, it showed the lack of understanding and compassion from the bully’s parents. Really, just a microcosm of what exists in society today.  There are those that lack compassion and an overall understanding of what really matters in life.  Goodness, kindness, love, compassion, and acceptance of all no matter what the differences may be.

At the Two, we celebrate strengths and diversities.  We believe that the things that make us “different” are the very things that make us extra special!

-Shari Hunter

#accepting #exceptional #school #wonder

The idea of the Two Foundation came from the verse Ecclesiastes 4: 9 and 10. “Two are better than one because they have a good return on their work. If one falls down, the other can pick him up.”

It also comes from the concept of the “peer buddy system” used in some schools. Instead of an adult aide helping the student, another student is trained and brought alongside to guide and model. It is a win, win for all involved. Our goal is to recreate the “peer buddy system” in the workplace. Two will train a fellow employee who will then become the job coach and support for our Two clients to ensure full integration into the workplace. We desire to come alongside families to support, encourage and provide the latest information as they raise, love and guide their family member into the workplace. This is a continuation of a journey I started twenty years ago.

I am so excited to see where this leads us as we venture together into the workplace.

Shari Hunter (Founder, CEO, MOM)

#TheBeginning #Two

A growing number of students on IEPs are leaving high school with job skills, but employment opportunities are limited.

Schools are focusing education on academic and vocational skills that will benefit the individuals after high school, but the businesses are not always affording the opportunities of employment to this population. Partnerships with local businesses will give students the opportunity to gain high-level skills necessary to move on to the next level of employment. The majority of the students would not need supported employment for an extended time.

When businesses open their doors to form a partnership with the schools, they are in actuality increasing their business. Local school employees and families would be more likely to support businesses that support students. Another advantage of schools and business forming partnerships would be that the businesses could inform the school of the specific job skills that are necessary for students to be successful in various fields of employment.

The schools, in turn, could incorporate them into their vocational training, therefore, producing students ready to work and decrease on the job training.

A partnership would be a win-win situation for all parties.

#Highschool #Schools #Two

One magic day she passed my way; the greatest thing you ever learn is to love and be loved in return. To my 25-year-old daughter, Lauren, my heart is filled with gratitude. We have come a long way together. I believe in chasing dreams and all my dreams for you came true. It’s amazing what love can do!

Now it has come time for me to let you go; to spread your wings and fly. Whatever you are is perfect to me, but I know you have goals and dreams for your life that you want to see come true. I am your biggest fan and as long as I live I will be routing you on, encouraging you to dream BIG.

So give it all you’ve got. Here’s to life and all the joy it brings. Here’s to life and dreamers of their dreams. Here’s to life; here’s to love; here’s to you, my pride and joy, Lauren.

So you see, my involvement in the Two Foundation is a matter of the heart. I want to be a part of a mission team where we dream to see others dreams for their lives come true.

Written by: Donna Fayerman
Two Foundation Board Member

#MOM #Two

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It takes a village

Two & Company, which encompasses the café, shops, job services and the foundation, has outgrown the space we've been leasing since 2015. We purchased a building to $1.6 million dollars with 6,800 square feet that will have space for training, café, shops, and business offices. The costs for the building and renovations are estimated to be $4 million dollars. With your generous donations we have raised $2.2 million dollars!

We want to provide the best of the best in a state of the art facility in the center of Chargin Falls. We want to serve as the premier model for integration of individuals with exceptionalities and provide our community with an amazing dining and shopping experience.

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