Rondell walks in breathless and panting as he plops his backpack neatly – with a thud – onto the floor. “I missed my stop. I am sorry.” he laments in an excited-yet monotone voice. He is fifteen minutes late to his job development work day on this near-Winter morning in Brooklyn. A mix-up in directions has Rondell anxious. “Don’t worry, you’re okay. Just take a breath Rondell.” Suzanne, his colleague and trainer responds in a comforting, motherly tone as she ushers him to the back of the house for a morning of yard clearing.

I am in the other room, listening. I have been awaiting Rondell’s arrival. A guest in the home of my friend Jodi, director of business development and front desk logistics manager of Great Green Cleaning, she asked me the day before to meet with Rondell. “He has autism, and who better to talk with him than you?” she explained. “He’s new on the job and we are training him – working with his special needs in mind. We want to make sure everything is okay for him at home and on the job. He’s like family to us.”

More than her request that I talk with him, it is seeing a small company like Great Green Cleaning willing to give a great guy a great break that causes a sweet chill to prickle my skin. Knowing Jodi and her boss, Cindy LeBow, Senior Manager of the Brooklyn-based, environmentally friendly cleaning company, it is intriguing but not surprising that they’ve hired a young man with autism to be one of their crew.  That’s just who they are as individuals and a bright company with clients such as 3 D Rock, Lifespire, MTV Productions, Misnomer Dance Theatre and Studios to Go – to name only a mere fraction of their satisfied clients.

We are a group of people that want to make a difference in the world, by doing business with honesty, integrity and compassion.”

This vision of Great Green Cleaning is clearly more than just a string of shallow words that sound good to would-be clients. For them, making a difference is the way to do business. At Great Green, employees are trained to understand the special needs (both literal and figurative) of its individual and collective clients. Training includes how employees communicate with clients, no wearing of fragrances while on the job, and using only cleaning products that are earth, pet and people friendly solutions and technologies.

As for their employees, there too they put words into action. Their mission is to create a supportive educational work environment wherein each individual may grow and thrive contributing all of themselves and their life experience, while joyfully creating a successful income. I see that Rondell is in good hands.

How cool is that?

So back to Rondell… who will not talk with me until all his work is done. He has been told by Jodi that it’s okay to talk with me during his working time. We are to talk about future goals, transitions, and life skills such as banking and bookkeeping. But Rondell is highly focused on his job before wanting to chat about personal issues. Not that he doesn’t want to talk about himself – he does. But not until the last detail of his work is completed. How’s that for commitment?

When the yard work is done and we are finally able to sit down to talk, a smile curls upwards on my lips. I feel a special kinship to this beautiful, young, twenty-something man. Rondell is very close in age to my son, Taylor.  And like Taylor, he is out in the big hustling world making a way for himself – finding successes and challenges – standing tall and falling down – all with a crew of amazing supporters and advocates. This fact makes me wonder with a tinge of bittersweet sadness what it would mean to hundreds of thousands of other self-advocates, mothers and fathers around the globe if these advocates and parents had the advantage of such compassionate support, patience and acceptance of differences in the workforce.

I have heard it said that the measure of a society is how they treat their elderly, disenfranchised and disabled… I reflect upon the measures of our society.

While in recent years society appears to have made some in-roads to Micro Enterprise and workability, there remains a gaping hole in job availability, job development programs, and treatment of disabled employees. According to the Labor Department, a staggering eight of 10 working-age Americans with disabilities are out of the workforce entirely. The good news is that companies such as Walgreen’s, Best Buy, Toys R Us and Lowes have stepped into the limelight in recent years for hiring people with disabilities. The bad news, however, are the allegations (against Walgreen’s for example) of how disabled employees are treated once hired. This mega-chain has been accused of requiring their employees with disabilities to work beyond their limitations if they want to keep their jobs, amongst other complaints.

And so we have a long, long way to go toward improving job and development opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Sadly, today Americans with disabilities are twice as likely to end up in poverty. We continue to see those with disabilities facing discrimination in the workforce. And more and more, we hear about someone’s adult son or daughter staying at home during what is for most a work week, playing video games, trolling social media sites, and generally segregated from friends, community and workability. From my window, this phenomenon appears to be getting worse, not better. And so it is with awe and appreciation that I hail the efforts of a small company such as Great Green Cleaning for taking their initiative in taking on one of our own to train, inspire, and include as a member of their family.  I challenge other small companies to consider this vital role, and what it could mean for YOU!

As employers know, good business decisions must prove successful if they are to be sustainable in the long term. As Great Green Cleaning has discovered, the measure of its success is often determined by a more flexible yardstick: in this case, an eager and determined young employee who is doing a great job, and the viable community service this company provides.

At last, Rondell and I are able to talk, delving into his dreams and ideas for his future. He shares with me that he’d like his future to include more hours with Great Green Cleaning, to learn to be solely responsible for his own financial and monetary affairs (currently he’s under a guardianship), and to make a difference in the world with “one cleaning at a time.”  He then wraps it up by projecting a confident smile as I offer to teach him what a self-advocate is, what it means, and how he can become a better self-advocate to ensure his future as he grows into the dreams he has for himself.

It was a wonderful day. Way to go Rondell! Way to go Great Green Cleaning.

New York City and burrough dwellers: for more information on Great Green Cleaning, and how 10% of your first cleaning discount will be donated to The ART of AUTISM, contact: