Seventy-five percent of the people working for Habitat have either a physical or mental disability or both.
Habitat International Inc., is one of the leading suppliers of both indoor/outdoor carpet products and artificial grass for Lowe's, The Home Depot, as well as additional retailers. They are a socially responsible business that is dedicated to providing jobs to people who often find it difficult to find employment. The company was created by David Morris and his father, Saul, in the year 1981. It is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has become a role model for the public, disability advocates, and other forms of businesses. The thing that matters the most to Habitat, as it is called, is people.
The company has employed persons who are homeless, recovering alcoholics, non-English speaking refugees, as well as others who, upon being presented with opportunity, have worked very had to overcome stereotypes that have been associated with them. Habitat International Inc.'s slogan is, "A Company of Positive Distractions," and embodies a philosophy of kindness, compassion, and love that honors the diversity of the people they employ. The philosophy at Habitat has succeeded for everyone involved, with people employed at the company out-producing the competition by two-to-one.
The employees at Habitat cut and package dozens of forms of artificial grass accent rugs, putting greens, driving mats, indoor/outdoor and remnant rugs, as well as novelty recreational products. Some of the products made by the workers for Habitat are sold under Habitat's name; others are sold under brand names such as Top Flite, Beaulieu of America, JEF World Golf, or IZZO. The Habitat company and workers create custom steel architectural pieces and yard art as well. Lowe's, Orchard Supply and The Home Depot sell products produced by Habitat. A number of unique partnerships with businesses and former competitors find the workers for Habitat performing tasks that might otherwise be outsourced or eliminated through automation.
From the year Habitat Inc., was created in a small storefront in East Ridge, Tennessee, the company has reached a number of goals and milestones:
1983: Habitat moved its operations to a larger facility off Hwy. 153 in Chattanooga. The Morris's hire their first employees, several refugees from Cambodia and Laos.
1986: The company moved to a former chicken hatchery in Rossville, Georgia. David and Saul Morris host their first enclave of people with disabilities from Orange Grove Center.
1993: The first group of eight employees with disabilities was hired at Habitat.
1996: David Morris was selected to carry the Olympic torch on its way to the Summer Games in Atlanta.
1997: Habitat received the Catoosa County, Georgia Chamber of Commerce's O. Wayne Rollins Entrepreneur Award for its strong support of special-needs workers. The company was also named Employer of the Year by the Tri-County Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, a non-profit consortium in Catoosa, Walker and Dade counties in north Georgia.
1998: Habitat began employing persons who were homeless or near-homeless. An article about the company in Nation's Business magazine resulted in an Easter Seals Equality, Dignity and Independence (EDI) Award presented at a gala ceremony in New York City.
1999: Habitat received a prestigious Blue Chip Enterprise Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, MassMutual, and Nation's Business magazine.
2004: Habitat launched a new line of high-end Giclee printing for painters, photographers and other artists.
The, 'Able,' program at Habitat includes people with schizophrenia, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism, as well as hearing-impaired persons. Over the last twenty years, Habitat has been hiring people with disabilities and urging other entrepreneurs to do the same, while defying those who say that, 'it cannot be done.' The results of their efforts have been a multi-million dollar company where workers with disabilities out-produce their nearest competition by two-to-one, which speaks volumes. The Habitat corporation has produced a book called, 'Able,' that is available through their website, concerning this very thing.
Able the book presents the challenges and the joys of managing a business of workers with disabilities. It shares with readers the stories of workers who absolutely refuse to accept stereotypes about them, while offering advice to other business owners and employers who are still afraid that they will lose money if they hire people with disabilities. 'Able,' will change the perceptions of business owners, entrepreneurs, employers, and anyone else who reads it that may - even in this day and age, maintain fears about workers with disabilities.
The Author of, 'Able,' Nancy Henderson Wurst, writes about people who make a difference through the work they do. She has articles which have appeared through The New York Times, Parade, Nation's Business, Family Circle, and additional publications. Nancy is a member of The Author's Guild and the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA).
Through the years Habitat Inc., has won a number of awards for its hiring practices and its continuing support of people with disabilities. The honors the company has received include:
1996: Olympic Torch Run (David Morris), Summer Games, Knoxville, Tennessee
1997: O. Wayne Rollins Entrepreneur Award, Catoosa County (Georgia) Chamber of Commerce
Employer of the Year, Tri-State Council on Disabilities
1998: EDI (Equality, Dignity, Independence) Award, Easter Seals, for article in Nation's Business
1999: Blue Chip Enterprise Award, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, MassMutual and Nation's Business
2000: Employer of the Year, Tri-State Council on Disabilities; Employee of the Year (Martin Arney), Tri-State Council on Disabilities
2001: Existing Industry Appreciation Award for small manufacturers, Georgia Economic Developers Association (GEDA)
2002: Employer of the Year, Tri-State Council on Disabilities; Outstanding Small Business of the Year, Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce; Public Service Award, Chattanooga Area Brain Injury Association
2003: Employee of the Year (Daniel Johnson), Chattanooga Area Brain Injury Association
An excerpt from, 'Able,' the book written about Habitat by Nancy Henderson Wurst, reads:
"If you're an employer, I urge you to let go of your fear and your preconceived notions and hire individuals, not labels or categories. Substitute the word 'able' for 'disabled' in your own mind and see what happens.
If you're a parent or caregiver of a person with a disability, I urge you to take a leap of faith and allow your loved one to spread her wings in the workplace. There are ways to help keep her government-funded medical benefits intact if necessary.
If you're a working-age person with a disability, I urge you to seek employment with a socially responsible business. They are out there. Even if the company has never employed a person with special challenges, go into the interview with a 'yes, yes, I can' attitude. Let the person who's hiring see your confidence in your own abilities, and explain how you can help him build a better workplace. Regardless of whether you get the job, you'll undoubtedly make an impact and help pave the way for future employees with 'distractions.'
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