Submitted photo##MV Advancements client Rene Dominic, right, poses with her coworker Leah Baker and Lilly the bird at the McMinnville Petco store.
Submitted photo##MV Advancements client Rene Dominic, right, poses with her coworker Leah Baker and Lilly the bird at the McMinnville Petco store.

Mike Schmidt: Immeasurable impacts

I have always had a special place in my heart for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As the Director of Employment Services at MV Advancements, I have the privilege of helping many of these people find community employment with local businesses. It is life-changing, not just for me or the new employee, but for the business that employs them.

I’m frequently asked why I’m so passionate about the men and women we serve. Growing up in Nampa, Idaho, with two sisters, my mother and a father who worked long hours in retail providing for our family, I was always on the lookout for new friends. One day, when I was eight, there was a knock on the door, and Tommy’s sister asked if I wanted to play. Tommy had Down syndrome. Tommy and I became friends, and we played hot wheels and listened to 45s on the record player.

Guest Writer

Michael Schmidt is the director of employment services for MV Advancements. Born in Nampa, Idaho, he has 38 years of management experience, 15 of those with Staples. He lives in McMinnville with his wife Terry. They have five children and nine grandchildren.

The Moad family also lived next door to me. They had five boys. One day, for no particular reason, one of the Moad boys hit Tommy. While I may have been scared of them before, that day I pounced on the kid while his two other brothers tried to pull me off. Needless to say, the Moad boys never messed with Tommy again, and I had gained a new found respect on my street.

After about five years, Tommy’s sister left for college. Shortly afterward his mother passed away. I knocked on the door one day and was told that Tommy had moved. There was no one to take care of him, so he went to live at the Idaho State Hospital, similar to Fairview Hospital in Oregon. I never had a chance to say goodbye to Tommy, but I think of him often and know that he is the reason I do the work I do today.

While working as the banquet manager at a resort in Newport, I met Greg. He was the son of a co-worker. Greg, too, had Down syndrome. Many times my co-worker would bring him to work. After awhile I asked her if it would be okay if Greg helped me move some chairs in the banquet room. He did a great job. Eventually, he was ready to work the buffet line. His mother bought him a white shirt and a black bow tie. We practiced in the kitchen until he felt confident in his skills. His pride, once the service was over, was inspiring. It taught me that when you invest in and coach an individual, the sky is the limit.

I’ve had many similar experiences in my career. From a young man assisting with pricetagging lightbulbs in the stockroom at Fred Meyer to a day porter doing light janitorial work at Staples in California, not only did they do a quality job, the people had a positive impact on employee morale.

In late 2006, my family relocated to McMinnville. I was taking over the management of the Staples store. My first day of work was a Saturday, and I showed up early. The store was not yet open for the day. MV Advancements (MVA) was meeting in the parking lot preparing for a day trip. Because of my desire for a diverse workforce, I mentioned I would like to find someone with a disability to work at the store. Within a few days an employment specialist from MVA contacted me. She interviewed me about our business needs, what types of tools would be used, and the work schedule. Based upon this information, she provided me with three highly qualified candidates. We interviewed each one and hired Ti. He has been a great addition to the team and he continues to be employed there nearly eight years later.

This was the first time I was given so much support by a nonprofit assisting individuals with disabilities. Ti’s job coach was involved, available and creative when we encountered work issues. This ongoing assistance was the key to Ti’s long term job success. This was my first experience with MVA and to say that I was impressed with the professionalism and the care that went into their work would be an understatement. They made my job easy and our newly hired employee improved the morale of the team. It may not show up as a line item on an income statement, but Ti’s presence had an immeasurable positive impact on the store’s performance.

When I decided to leave retail, I took a leap of faith. I had no job lined up. On my second to last day, the employment specialist who placed Ti stopped by with a job description and an application for employment. She had heard I would be leaving. She encouraged me to apply for an employment specialist position at MVA. Two weeks later, I was hired!

More than a year in the position, I can say I’ve never been more passionate about my work. I use my management skills and knowledge in customer service to place more individuals like Ti in local businesses. Most importantly, I know why a community job for someone with a disability is a win-win.

My call to action is two-fold: If I or one of our employment specialists knocks on your door, hear us out. We have so many individuals who could benefit your company. Also, please support those businesses that do employ individuals with disabilities. Statistically, across the U.S., 87 percent of people say they prefer patronizing businesses that employ someone who is disabled. You can find a list of business partners on our website at or look for the window cling “Proud To Support MV Advancements” on many local shops.

Finally, three of my grandchildren have autism. I want them to have the opportunity to live full, integrated lives in the communities where they reside. It’s because of organizations like MVA who support individuals in community employment that I know that this will be possible for all. Join us on the journey. It’s life changing.