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Becoming a Superstar at Stew Leonard’s

One crisp February afternoon, Christopher Parks was at work, pushing carts for Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk, when he noticed a shopper in a tight spot: someone had parked so close to her car that she couldn’t get in. Parks started working at the store about a year ago as part of Ability Beyond’s  Employment programs.

“I kept my eyes on customers coming and going, and wondered if I dared to ask them to move my car,” the woman later wrote in a letter to Stew Leonard’s management.

The letter went on to explain how Parks, 56, came to her rescue, climbing through the passenger door (with her permission) to back the car up so she could safely enter.

For his outstanding commitment to customer service, Parks has been named August Superstar of the Month at the world’s largest dairy store!

“We’re proud to celebrate Christopher this month and all year. He truly exemplifies the talent and heart that diverse employees bring to the workforce,” Stew Leonard’s said in a statement.

“Christopher is great,” said Stew’s Human Resources Coordinator Silvy Iannaccone, who hired Parks on the spot a year ago. “We’re all tremendously grateful for the help he gives outside. It’s not an easy job, but he’s never complained about anything.”

“Somebody there to back me up.”

Each year, Ability Beyond helps 1,750 people with disabilities find and maintain competitive employment with a stunning success rate. That’s why Parks came to us in 2021, looking for a new job in light of the pandemic.

The lifelong Norwalk resident had 30+ years of experience, including 27 years in retail—most recently as a DSD receiver, meticulously scanning packages as they arrived at his Walmart store and filling out the necessary paperwork. All he needed was a helping hand.

“To me, Ability Beyond meant I would have somebody there to back me up, so to speak—to help me out,” he said. “But I can’t let them do all the work, or just sit back and wait for something to happen.”

Parks knows what he wants: a job with a busy pace, customer-facing work, and enough hours a week to make a living.

For a season, the right fit was Home Goods. When the store cut his hours after Christmas, Parks went back to the drawing board, this time with Andy Hernandez, a relatively new employment specialist with Ability Beyond who also helped him navigate Social Security benefits and health insurance between jobs.

The job at Stew Leonard's felt like kismet—but of course, it was the result of hard work, including mock interviews that instilled enough confidence in both men to apply for the role of garden shop attendant. In the meeting with Stew’s HR Coordinator Silvy Iannaccone, “Christopher killed it,” Andy said. “I barely spoke—I was just there as a cheerleader.”

Iannaccone quickly recognized Park’s talent, and offered him a year-round position rather than the seasonal role he applied for. Within 10 minutes, he had a job.

“A year later, and he’s doing great,” Iannaccone said, adding that Parks also received the High Five Award for excellence at work. “He even told me he’s gotten in better shape pushing carts. It keeps him on the move.”

A year later, Hernandez still regularly visits Parks at work, too, walking the parking lot together as they catch up.

“What we do differently at Ability Beyond is that we get to know the whole person, and develop a relationship—a rapport,” Hernandez said. “We’re in it together. The people we serve will venture out to find their way in the workforce, but they won’t be alone.”

A Family Legacy of Hard Work

To Parks, work is a reason to get out of bed every day. It’s how he takes care of himself, by earning enough money to pay his bills.

It’s also in his DNA.

Back when there was still a Twin Donuts on Connecticut Avenue, Parks would wake up early on Saturdays to go to work with his dad at Bozak Speakers, the family business his grandfather established.

“They used to make loudspeakers, stain the cabinets and everything,” Parks said. “I’d help him out here and there. That’s where I first learned to be responsible, in a sense.”

Decades later, Parks still considers his father a role model.

He looks forward to retiring from Stew’s, but the details are up in the air. “I might just do like my dad,” he said, “and wait till I’m 80.

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Parks' success with our Employment programs wouldn't be possible without community partners like Stew Leonard's and the generous contributions of our supporters. Learn more about what you can do to support Ability Beyond today.

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