LYNNWOOD - Anna Hughes fits in well at Alderwood mall's newest
Auntie Anne's Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels location. Her co-workers
describe her as having a great sense of humor, and she said she has
fun at work.
When she jokes with location manager Ashley McClure, a shy smile
creeps across her face.
"I'm going to stay here for a long time," Hughes said.
"Yeah, if I say so," teased McClure, tapping Hughes
affectionately on the shoulder.
Hughes is one of seven employees with disabilities at the two
Alderwood Auntie Anne's locations. She was referred to the franchise
through PROVAIL, an organization that provides support for people
Hughes hands out samples and helps with pretzel preparation, but
she said her favorite task is bagging - putting pretzels into small
paper bags for customers.
Her attitude is top-notch, said McClure. "She comes in here ready
Bret Stewart, owner of 10 Auntie Anne's locations including the
two at Alderwood mall, has made it a priority to support people with
disabilities. Twenty-two of his employees are disabled.
The sampler position was created with this goal in mind, he said.
It is sometimes hard to find teenagers willing to pass out pieces of
pretzel, but many people with disabilities enjoy the public
"I want to make sure the jobs we have are real jobs," he said.
"People get raises and feedback they can take with them. This isn't
the last job they'll have, and they're learning skills."
While Stewart is willing to be patient when it comes to making
accommodations, he said he doesn't let standards slip. At one point,
a hygiene issue arose when a customer complained about a sampler
eating the samples while distributing them. The issue was cleared up
after a little additional training.
"I don't like to have a situation where just because people have
a disability, they don't have a standard," he said. "We don't want a
person to just be a token disability. We want them to do a good
Darlene Etue is another Alderwood Auntie Anne's employee who came
to Stewart through PROVAIL. Because she is confined to a wheelchair
and has a speech disability, the sampler job is a good fit.
Etue said her co-workers are her favorite thing about working at
"They're nice," she said.
Auntie Anne's staff receives training from PROVAIL on how to work
with people with disabilities, Stewart said. He also employs people
through Washington Vocational Services.
Cheryl Green, vice president of employment and community service
for PROVAIL, said the organization's job coaches can provide
information on behavioral problems or other issues that might come
Stewart, she said, is an ideal employer for the disabled.
"A lot of times, people with disabilities fool us all, because we
have never given them a chance," she said. "Bret always gives them a
chance to develop."
PROVAIL partners with more than 60 local companies to aid people
with disabilities in their search for employment. Companies that
hire people with physical or mental disabilities are often viewed as
more caring companies by other employees and their customers, Green
And for employees with disabilities, holding down a part-time job
has tremendous implications, said Green.
"The people with disabilities get so much more than a paycheck
out of this," she said. "They get self-respect and dignity. ... They
are the proudest people you will ever meet."