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Kansas City restaurant offers internships for people with special abilities

January 9, 2024

Four Team Members have been permanently hired from the Flourish program

A place where people are restored

When local Owner-Operator Drew Severns, a Kansas City native, opened Chick-fil-A Lenexa located in the Kansas City Metro, he created a restaurant vision his team sees every day – framed around Scott Erickson’s artwork titled “Another Chance.”

“We exist to be a place where people are restored, and that vision informs what we do every day,” Drew said.

That vision has drawn people to his team – specifically, director Sarah Stange, who has been with the restaurant since it opened in 2020. Her mom encouraged her to apply at the restaurant when it was under construction.

“I applied at Chick-fil-A and met Drew in my interview. I was immediately impacted by Drew’s vision for the restaurant—that it would be a place where people are restored. And as soon as I heard that, I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. This is really special,” Sarah said.

Lifelong passion leads to Flourish program

The restaurant had an idea to create a program for people with special abilities, and they knew Sarah would be the perfect person to lead it.

“When I was 15, I went and volunteered at Camp Barnabas, which serves individuals with special abilities, and was inspired by the individuals that I was working with,” Sarah said. “There was one gal who I was paired with and she just made a huge impact on me. When I was 16, I went to camp and met her. I got to spend time with her outside of camp, see her job and just get to know her. And I think that really made an impact on me as a 16-year-old and made me just see that her life was just so valuable and worth living.”

Sarah met with restaurant leaders and outside coaches to ideate and develop the Flourish program, an eight-week paid internship designed to give individuals with special abilities work-based learning opportunities. They actively work in the restaurant and complete specific learning goals alongside a mentor.

The restaurant worked with Down Syndrome Innovations, a nonprofit organization that partners with several employers in the Kansas City area. They provided trainings for the Flourish Program mentors on how to support individuals with diverse abilities, so everyone would feel comfortable and confident working with the Flourish participants. Down Syndrome Innovations also worked with Chick-fil-A Lenexa’s human resources department on developing the position and created visual supports for Flourish program participants.

“The vocational training opportunities employers provide make a huge difference because individuals learn so much more when they get to experience the job setting. There's only so much you can learn in a classroom,” said Amanda Myers, the Employment Coordinator with Down Syndrome Innovations. “It’s crucial that that they can put those skills into practice in real-time because it allows them to experience all the components of an actual work environment. Employers offering on-the-job training to individuals is a game changer for this population.”


From interns to Team Members

One of the first Flourish participants, Molly Novak, who graduated from the program nearly two years ago, wanted to work for Chick-fil-A. When Molly was a baby, Drew’s mother watched both Molly and her sister.

When Molly told her parents she wanted to work for Chick-fil-A, they immediately reached out to Drew. At the time, the couple wasn't sure if it was a good fit or if Molly was ready to work, but Drew said the timing was serendipitous.

Melissa and her husband, Johnny, brought Molly to the restaurant and she interviewed. Drew also explained the program’s vision to Melissa and Johnny. All agreed it was a good fit, and Molly began working with her mentor, Sarah.

“I was going through photos for her (graduation) video for school, and it reminded me just how feisty she has always been,” Melissa said. “But I think that's also why she's kind of who she is, whereas she's got some challenges. Because she is so feisty, she's never afraid to try things that are new, which is what always makes her special and, you know, be able to do things that I think other kids like her wouldn't be able to do.”

When Molly got her driver’s license, she applied to work at a Chick-fil-A restaurant closer to her house that she could drive herself to. She was hired on the spot.

“As a parent, there's nothing more fulfilling, especially when you don't know what your child's future really looks like,” Melissa said. “She goes to a school for kids with learning disabilities and she is the example for everyone. Now, everyone in her class has gone and gotten jobs because Molly did it. If you can engage this group, they're incredible teammates. They want to work. They show up on Friday nights. They never miss a shift. They just love to be part of a team.”

Seven Flourish team members have participated and graduated from the internship program. Four participants continue to work for Chick-fil-A and have for more than a year.