" Welcome to Wal-Mart." Many of us have heard that a thousand times before. Nonetheless, at Escanaba Wal-Mart there is a distinct voice that greets you as you enter the store. Behind that low raspy voice and a big bright smile he welcomes you, your spouse and your children all by name. He is one of Wal-Mart's well known door greeters, Mitch Varnum. He has been employed by Wal-Mart for over 12 years. There is not a day that goes by that Mitch does not let you know how much he enjoys his job.
Mitch attended Special Education classes all his life, he can't tell time or read weekly schedules, he needs prompts to punch in and out at work and making transportation arrangements to and from work. It might make you think, "how can someone with limitations such as Mitch's have a job.?" Mitch grew up in Manistique, Michigan and lived there most of his life. When Mitch was a teenager his parents along with the Special Education Director from the Delta Intermediate School District had arranged for Mitch to start attending the Learning Center in Escanaba, Michigan. Mitch rode the bus to and from Manistique daily. Prior to Mitch graduating from the Learning Center at age 26, he was introduced to Lakestate Industries for a work opportunity. Mitch began working for Lakestate Industries in June of 1988. He did a variety of jobs such as working in the Woodshop making pallets, stacking stringers, Delta Plaza Mall cleaning and at the Recycling Center sorting through materials and helping customers in the drive-thru. He would often go on runs with the Recycling Coordinator from Lakestate and retrieve recyclables from the bins at varies sites in the community. Mitch's parents felt that his work opportunity was very important. They found him a home with 24 hour staff in case of emergencies in Escanaba, opposed to him riding the bus or taking a taxi back and forth to Manistique.
Prior to the holiday season in 2000 while doing Job Development through Community Employment Services through Lakestate Industries, Mitch was given the opportunity to work in the community at Wal-Mart with a job coach to help him with his functional limitations. At first, he was told that he would only be working through the holiday season. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays had ended, Wal-Mart contacted Lakestate Industries to offer Mitch a more permanent part-time job. With the help of the Program Director at Lakestate who gets Mitch's schedule from Wal-Mart and relays that information to his mother and home provider, having Job Coaches assist Mitch at lunch time to punch in and out for breaks Mitch was provided a kitchen timer for his lunch pail so he can punch back into work if there is not a Job Coach there to help him at lunch time, along with the Personnel Manager who assists Mitch with his yearly CCBL's (computer based learning) modules, Mitch has worked successfully for 11 years in the community.
Mitch enjoys his job, traveling with his mother, and he has had the privilege of meeting many famous people in history including: Detroit Tigers baseball players including Mark Fidrych "the bird", Norman Cash and Nolan Ryan. Nolan Ryan had a condo next to Mitch in Florida and he spent many winters with him. Additionally Mitch had the pleasure to meet Bobby Valentine, Willie Nelson, Charlie Pride, Muhammad Ali, President Gerald Ford, George Romney (Mitt's father), President George W. Bush Jr. While in Florida for the winter George Bush Jr. (his father was President at the time) would play a game at the pier when the boats would come in. To the average individual, these are some important people. To Mitch, the most important people in his life are the ones he sees at work.
Next time you walk into Wal-Mart and you see Mitch, stop and introduce yourself. He will be sure to make you feel welcomed with a personal hello by name.