Community partnerships in baseball can take on many different forms, and some stand out more than others. One example of a relationship that is meeting the needs of both sides is that of the North Shore Navigators (summer collegiate; Futures Collegiate Baseball League) and Bridgewell’s Employment Support Program.
Now in its fifth season, the partnership allows adults with development disabilities, physical limitations, and/or medical or behavioral challenges to pursue employment with the Navigators. The program began in 2012, coinciding with Bill Terlecky’s arrival as the team’s general manager.
Terlecky, whose career in baseball began in 1978 and includes stints in the minor league and independent ranks, was looking for an immediate way to improve Fraser’s Field cleanup and maintenance. “Right around that time, we were approached by Bridgewell and we thought that it would be a good idea,” said Terlecky.
Bridgewell uses a detailed process to determine which individuals will work at the ballpark. Prospective employees start with a group program at Bridgewell’s Boston Street Center in Lynn, MA, where they work within supervised groups.
“When we see someone excelling in the group job, we know that they’re ready to move onto something more advanced like a job at the ballpark,” said Ashley Smallwood, a career specialist for Bridgewell. “Really it’s about their passions and what they’re doing, and finding something along those lines.”
According to Smallwood, she and the job coaches at Bridgewell will often measure certain individual interests and traits. As an example, someone who is sent from the group program to employment at Fraser Field likely prefers working outdoors, exhibits strong interpersonal skills, and can handle large crowds.
While there are other places for employment within the region, Fraser Field and the Navigators offer a unique circumstance. “It’s so great, because they are so visible at the games,” said Smallwood. “They aren’t buried in a backroom, and they show people they can work somewhere.”
On a typical night, the Navigators will employ one to three individuals who are supervised by a job coach from Bridgewell. During the game, they will clean areas of the ballpark as needed, refill condiment dispensers, and are encouraged to assist and interact with the fans.
“That is the part they enjoy the most,” said Smallwell. “Just being around baseball fans, and being around the game.”
Following the game, employees will be responsible for garbage collection, which typically takes about an hour. Job coaches are responsible for transportation to and from the game.
This level of activity is one that perfectly suits Bridgewell’s program, but the Navigators play a part in its execution. “Bill is a strong advocate for people with disabilities,” said Milena Sarrette, Bridgewell’s assistant program director of employment services. “He really treats them like members of the team, and it has been a great experience because of Bill.”
Terlecky says that the partnership with Bridgewell is unlike any he has worked with previously, because of the attention to detail. “One of the key things is they send a supervisor out here,” said Terlecky. “I can’t ask for anything more than that, because I have two people working and I have somebody supervising every step.”
While the team’s operations continue to benefit from this partnership, its other and most important affect is on the employees themselves. One of the major success stories thus far has been Peter Barrett (pictured above), who began working at Fraser Field during the partnership’s first season.
In the time since, he has advanced to working five days a week at a local McDonald’s. While Bridgewell’s job coaches still check in with Barrett and assist with matters such as scheduling, he is now able to work independently.
“Peter’s main responsibilities include keeping the dining room and parking lot clean, and restocking condiments and ice as needed,” said Smallwood. “Working at the Navigators really helped Peter develop the skills necessary to interact with the customers at McDonalds, and to maintain the cleanliness of the restaurant.”
Though Barrett is not employed at Fraser Field this season, he continued working at the ballpark for one season after obtaining the job at McDonalds, largely because of his relationship with Terlecky and the Navigators. “In all honesty, I was disappointed when they were gone,” Terlecky said of Barrett and the other members of the first group to work at Fraser Field. “They were my heroes.”
Terlecky said that the subsequent groups, however, have done an excellent job in keeping the partnership going and that Bridgewell’s staff never misses a beat. “We continue to do it because it works. Obviously, we are absolutely thrilled at what the folks who do it get out of it for themselves. That gives you a special feeling, but at the end of the day they get it done. Despite their personal situation, they come in here and do a better job than anyone I could get.”
From the sounds of it, the Navigators are fully committed to carrying the program into future seasons. “Not to fill the article with clichés, but if it isn’t broke don’t fix it,” said Terlecky. “That is certainly the case here. We do it because they continue to do a great job. I couldn’t say anything more than that.”
Bridgewell, meanwhile, says that the Navigators offer the members of its program a unique and fulfilling experience. “Bill has been great about thinking outside the box,” said Sarrette. “He’s really been a great advocate for us in showing that our guys can be out in front, and not in a backroom somewhere. It really educates the community as well that they are not people with disabilities, but people with abilities.”
Image of Peter Barrett courtesy of Bridgewell.