Feature employer: London Hunt & Country Club
Posted on November 23, 2016
Washing away disability stigma one dish at a time
By Janice Richmond
Michael Stark runs one of the finest kitchens in London; some argue one of the finest in the country. But it’s not just the food that makes the dining experience exceptional. The Executive Chef at the London Hunt and Country Club inspires and is inspired by his staff. It’s the people as much as the food that makes for a great time at the member-only club.
One of his staff is particularly inspirational. On a recommendation from a friend, Stark hired a young man to work in his fast-paced kitchen. It was a simple process Stark says. After a brief meeting with Hutton House employment specialist Guillermo Antonio Anaya and one of his participants, Stark hired the participant as a part-time dishwasher.
Almost four years later 35-year old Tyhlor Mergerenn is still happily working as a dishwasher at the London Hunt Club. It’s a role that he takes seriously. He dons his white uniform shirt and black hat and gets to work in one of two spacious kitchens. He washes dishes and cleans the kitchens and feels good about his accomplishments. Although, he admits it can be stressful taking care of a dinner for 100 people. “Servers are bringing back cups and dishes and they are well organized, but you have to be fast, keep up,” he says. And he adds it’s a job that he might never have got without the help of Hutton House.
Tyhlor came to Hutton House as a teenager, “a bad one at that!” he says in a meeting at The Learning Centre in the Cherryhill Village Mall. “I was always behind in school, getting in trouble, whatever, and my Mom’s friend suggested to come here to get help with school, social activities, work.” He was diagnosed with a learning disability and the staff at Hutton House was able to help him with social and financial programs, resume writing, and job interview skills. It helped. “I’ve managed to keep a job for five years at a time. I ended up going to college. They got me a letter to get me extra help and time with my exams and tests,” he said. He adds that it was a relief to know that he wasn’t below average, wasn’t “bad”, but rather had a learning disability and he needed to learn things in a different way than most people.
His job gives him self-worth, a few extra dollars, and a social life. Living on a monthly Ontario Disability Support Program cheque means there isn’t a lot of wiggle room when budgeting. And he says he’s met some nice people. “Not just the people I work with but the patrons too,” he adds. “The people that come there aren’t snobby and stuck up. They are friendlier. They come in on routines and they get to know everyone by name and have general conversations with us. There are regulars who come every Friday night for the buffet and they’ll ask ‘how’s it going this week’, you know regular stuff. Or they’ll pick you up at the end of the driveway and they’ll drive you home too. Or to the bus stop or wherever, I’ve had a ride home a couple of times and that’s nice for me because it’s more than an hour bus ride and its 2 buses.”
A winding, beautiful, tree-lined driveway about one kilometer long tucked away off Oxford St. West takes you through the lush grounds of the 131-year old Club and to the front doors of its gorgeous Georgian style clubhouse. It is here where 1400 members gather to play golf, tennis, cards, skeet shoot, work-out and attend private functions, weddings, birthday parties and business meetings.
“Hutton House was a real big eye opener for us as to the quality of people we could get through this channel,” Stark says. “Here’s the type of person Tyhlor is. A couple of years ago, Tyhlor’s first winter here when we had that extreme winter, there was a day when the city was shut down which means the Club was shut down. Our sous chef brought her boyfriend’s jeep to work because there was a pick up order. She was going to leave the order on the doorstep and she lives just around the corner so she was able to make it in with the jeep. Well Tyhlor was here, at the front door. What had happened was, he thought it was snowy and no one else would show up so he walked from Waterloo St to here in a snowstorm. So I think that speaks to the kind of person that Tyhlor is. No phonecall, nothing. He just assumed that the other dishwashers would not show up. He didn’t want the Club to be without a dishwasher that day.”
Stark credits his kitchen staff with keeping such a positive atmosphere that there is a low turnover rate. While some people may think the job of a dishwasher is mundane, Tyhlor is content with the task and enjoys the people around him. He has offered to give up his Christmas hours to workers with families who may need the extra money. No angel as a teenager, in fact some may have described him as a bit of a devil, Tyhlor now volunteers for Angels in the Night. It’s a community organization that provides coats, blankets, toiletries and other essentials to homeless shelters. Tyhlor was homeless for a brief time after his rooming house on Adelaide Street was condemned. He didn’t live on the street but had to couch surf with friends and family for awhile. He now lives in his own bachelor apartment. He credits the staff at Hutton House for helping him resolve his housing issues too. His advice to others who may be struggling with a disability is to ask for help. “I would recommend Hutton House, not even just for jobs, but for everything,” he says.
Stark also has advice for employers who may be thinking of adding diversity to their workforce. “I think they have to take that leap of faith. Just do it. And through the use of Hutton House you have the added advantage of support, although we’ve never had to use it. Guillermo would stop by, but we would tell him to stop, that there was really no need. I think that though with that support, if there is any trepidation then all of a sudden it will be a little bit less.”
Wise words from two men who would know.
Hutton House specializes in helping people with all kinds of disabilities find work and positive experiences. If you, or someone you know could benefit from our expertise, please give us a call, visit us in person, or online.
Huttonhouse.com 519 472 1541 x 232
301 Oxford St. W. in the Cherryhill Village Mall.