Thursday, April 02, 2020

A New Beginning!

For those who are interested in finding my new blog, you may check it out here:  The Shining Spirit

I will continue to update this blog here and there, so don't worry, you will still hear all about us!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

COVID Catch Up!

Hi there! 

Did you miss me?  Yeah, I thought not...hahaha!

I tried to visit with you all, I truly did.  I sat down plenty of times to write, and nothing would come out right.  This past year sort of beat me up, and I think I am just now coming into a better place.  Funny that it literally took a pandemic to help me stop and breath.  So, shall we catch you all up?

Let's start with Buckaroos...which is hanging in there at the moment, maybe by the skin of our teeth.  We had a successful opening few weeks, things slowed as expected, and now the virus has hit.  We are open for business for take out and delivery, which we just instituted.  Several of our employees are vulnerable so they are out for the duration.  We were barely holding our own, but pleased to be doing so early on, and knew we were opening at a less than ideal time so that was sort of understood we would struggle the first few months.  We, of course, didn't anticipate a pandemic coming along to make it all more challenging! Hahaha!  We have had a few activities with our employees which have been greatly enjoyed, and it has been molded into quite a little community. 

Angie, Kenny and Olesya have grown enormously through this process.  They have gained so much confidence, built many new skills, and I am SUPER proud to say they are basically running the place by themselves!  I have gradually backed away, helping a little here and there as they need it, mainly dealing with finances and some social media work.  The day to day operations are being handled 100% by them, and though Dominick is right next door and is a good safe guard, we were pretty intentional about how we set up the operations and all the necessary functions so that the kids could really do most of it on their own.  We never expected to have nailed it so well that they were able to far sooner than we anticipated!  It really helps knowing your "audience", so to speak, and after years of homeschooling maybe we were able to plan far better because we could guess ahead of time what might be sticking points and work those out before they became issues.  They are putting in 10-12 hour days, working incredibly hard, and are willing to do anything necessary to succeed.  We continue to pray that all will be well in the long run, while we are also filled with gratitude for the growth we have seen in each of them.

Matt is still involved with Civil Air Patrol, and has moved into the "Senior" side of things.  He is an adult member now, and is training to help lead the youth in his squadron.  He continues to tackle courses at home through Coursera, EdX and other outlets, though he has put that aside to undertake an enormous task.  He is currently working on creating an app an online ordering for House of Spirits so that Dominick can do delivery of his products that customers will order through the app or from the online page.  Josh helped with photographing thousands of products, and Matt has been coding like a madman and engaged in true project based learning as he works to create something that will work well and collaborates with a graphic designer as well as Dominick.  He is learning skills that are being put to the test in real time and is enjoying the process.

Josh has been a busy guy!  He was a basketball referee for our rec district this past season and was playing himself in the homeschool league.  They lost out on the opportunity to play in the championship game due to the COVID-19 shut downs, but he was perfectly fine with that.  We spent much of the fall working on career exploration, he took several aptitude tests, researched several trades and other avenues.  Suddenly, after a random suggestion to look at a particular school and their programs, Josh has decided he wants to pursue teaching for a career!  We are preparing him to eventually enroll in Western Governor's University for their teaching program, and he started a couple of college courses this past week through and will spend all of next year working toward getting gen. ed. courses done.  At least, that is the plan today :-) 

Christmas came and went in a flurry, and like everything this past several months, it was oddly off course.  Canceled dinner plans, focused on Buckaroos and all the "new" that surrounded that, but we made it to church, had a day to stop and just relax and "be".  We needed it before we were all off on a dead run doing our thing.

And we have grown older!  All of us...Matt and Josh both tried to grow beards, not so successfully I might add, but Matt has kept his mustache and a little soul patch which cracks me up, but now I am used to it.  Dominick tried to grow a beard as well, but we all decided we didn't care for it much. beard...hahaha!  Time continues its dance with us all, and we are firmly rooted in a new era these days.  I have fewer good photos to share because everyone is off working, learning, and growing.  Dominick is loving the store, happily implementing delivery at Buckaroos as the COVID-19 challenges arose, continuing to thoroughly enjoy being there every day, and nothing delights me more than to see that he loves what he does.  He is SO Mr. Social that the constant customer and sales representative contact really fill him up.

And me...hmmm...that might be another story.  The past year and a half or so have been difficult for me, painful in dealing with my mom's steady decline and death this summer.  I have had minor health issues of my own with my thyroid meds off significantly for months at a time.  That has hit me emotionally far more than I would have imagined, and I have spent months not understanding why I was feeling so depressed with everything basically good in my life.  Oh, we have stress, but doesn't everyone?  I couldn't understand it, until the blood test revealed that yet again I was way off.  Between that and menopause, well, let's just say it has been a roller coaster hormonally!! Haha!

I think that led me to pulling inward an awful lot, to not feeling like writing, to not feeling like me at all.  Thankfully, I am slowly moving into a better place emotionally, and feel like the ground is partially back beneath me.

I have been continuing to work here and there with Josh, who needs very little in the way of actual teaching from me.  I am daily working with our Blue Collar Homeschool Facebook Group which also keeps me busy but has proven to be a great support for many homeschoolers and is almost 8000 members now.  I have been in self-quarantine away from the family in our master bedroom, which we have turned into a bit of a dorm room with a little dorm fridge and microwave, so that I am not at risk of being exposed to the virus which would take me down very quickly due to the asthma and other lung issues I have.  We are being extremely cautious, and so I have been pretty much alone for going on 4 weeks now.  With four of us out in the world continuing to work, the odds of bringing something home are higher, so it was easier to isolate me.  Poor Dominick has been on the couch for a looooong time and his roommate is Kenny so we keep him away from the other boys!

And slowly, God is laying out new paths for me as well, and one of those paths will be a new blog.  I will continue to update here from time to time, but it has gradually felt like I am supposed to write anew elsewhere, so that is what I will do!  I promise, I will update here more regularly, now that I am a bit more myself.  And I will link to the new blog here in a couple of days.  I have been slowly figuring out what is next to come in my life, but I will share that on the new blog...but there is a different next which has surprised even me. 

We are praying and working hard and trying to be responsible and remain optimistic about the future.  I am constantly reminded right now that our family is healthy and whole, and every single day we are learning what a gift that is as we listen to news of those who are losing loved ones, losing jobs, losing so much.  What we have is such a gift, and we are all grateful every single moment.

Hope all of you are safe and healthy as well, and finding your way through the turmoil of the past couple of months.  I will write here more in the next day or two to share my new blog, for those who might be at all interested in following along.  

Monday, October 21, 2019

Three Tiny Tables

The Grand Opening has come and gone, and through the utter exhaustion we are all feeling there is a collective understanding that something very, very special is happening...something we can neither name nor create on our own.  It was two days of intense interaction, and a heck of a lot of slices and scoops being sold.  It was smiles and tears, laughter and motion.  And we discovered something we had not anticipated at all to the degree that immediately became obvious...

Buckaroos is a very sacred space.

God is very present there.

We are being carried along by something that only the Spirit could bring about, and we are barely beginning to understand that.

I can honestly say I have never worked harder, and never been more tired other than when we traveled each time to bring our children home.  This was a new kind of "adoption", one of an entire community, and it caught me completely off guard.  I never would have anticipated the experiences I personally had this weekend, nor the joy that I witnessed from so many corners.

First of all, our employees...all of them...differently abled and traditionally abled...what an AWESOME crew!  The sort of meshing that occurred here is unprecedented in all my prior working years filled with hiring.  The perfect people found their way to us, and we were able to sense exactly who they were through a field of applicants.  This is a team in every possible way, and within just a couple of days we were all remarking with great awe in our voices how it feels as if we have all known each other forever, how our various strengths and weaknesses complement each other so well, how everyone works together to accomplish a goal, and how there is an incredible work ethic present in each and every person on staff.  This would have been impossible to put together on our own, and I have no doubt that having so many pray for our beginning helped heighten our awareness and bring us precisely who we needed.  Most importantly, each and every person was instantly seen for who they are, not how they struggle.  They were not a diagnosis, and there was so much teamwork evident without an ounce of coaching.  If one weren't really tuned in, they would sometimes wonder who was someone who struggled and who was someone who didn't as much.  It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

The viral nature of our story on social media and traditional media was astonishing, and we had thousands upon thousands of views and shares, comments and clicks.  We were featured in online news magazines, local tv news, our local paper and a huge write up in the paper an hour away in Grand Junction, the radio station, and more. Here are a few links for those interested:

I am truly very uncomfortable with being interviewed, either live or in print, and it shows, but I hope our passion came through and that I didn't come off as too dorky.  I also realized I struggle to let go of the narrative and trust others to share appropriately, for I am protective of our little crew and don't want this viewed as anything other than it opportunity for growth, a collaborative effort, and though the truth is we hire those with special needs, that is the end of it.  They are then productive, capable employees learning new skills, trying as hard as everyone else does to be a good employee and serve customers well.  This isn't a Pity Hire situation, and I want that respected.  This is simply a recognition that not everyone can succeed in the same style and setting of work place as is usually found, and some folks need more direction and some adaptation in order to be successful.  We ALL see how once someone is allowed to fail without fear, they will indeed try over and over and eventually master a task.  We just allow more space for that to happen, but we have the same expectations other employers up on time, work hard, do your best, be respectful, etc.

All along, we had been aware of how employment might really make a difference for some people, but what we missed, and what stood out for me the most over the hectic weekend was the incredible power of having families with kids who have disabilities come in to be served, and how deeply some would be impacted.  A grandma and mom of two young boys with autism came in, and I didn't know this prior to meeting them, but grandma asked if I was the owner and I said I was, and she teared up and couldn't speak.  She tried twice and simply couldn't.  I leaned over and just hugged her, holding her tightly, until she could find the words to explain.  She and the mom said this place helped them see that their beloved boys might have a future after all.  I was tickled when I heard that the older son was clearly aware of his challenges and unabashedly pointed to one of us over the counter and said, "I have a disability just like YOU! And some day I am going to work at Buckaroos!!"  Talk about grabbing your heart!

Over and over, my soul was stirred with humble gratitude to know that what we are doing might change the perspective of many in our community.  A homeschooling mom of four, one with high functioning autism, also teared up and it was terribly important to her that I hear her out as she shared that our family and this business are literally giving her hope for her son, and that some days that hope is so hard to hold on to.  Man, don't I know that myself.  Another long hug, and a knowing nod.  A young hearing impaired girl lit up with an enormous grin as I offered to have her and her friends come for a special day of learning how to make pizza.  In the midst of a very busy period, I was profoundly touched to approach one of our three tiny tables and ask if they were pleased, and a much older woman with an unspecified disability who was non-verbal and possibly blind was there with her caretaker.  She was communicating the best she could, when I spoke with her, and she pulled me in, then gently kissed me on the cheek.  Hard not to sob over that one as she then patted my hand, her joy at being "seen" and spoken to normally so evident.  An older local adoptive mom of three who had remembered reading about our family years ago came in and sat at one of those three tiny tables later in the evening, when it was slow, and we shared our adoptive mommy hearts and challenges.

Those three tiny tables became our living room, something I just hadn't ever anticipated.  Friends joined us with loads of laughter, special friend Raynola and her family and dear friend Laurie showed up and had the girls squealing at the top of their lungs.  Raynola taught the girls art for 3 or 4 years for free via Skype and hadn't seen them in person in years, but committed to coming this far because showing up matters more than most of us want to realize, because love is action and sometimes we are lazy.  Lots of people were not "lazy in love" and we were overwhelmed to have Candi and Billy show up from so far away, to have over FIFTY people from our church which is an hour away come to our soft opening and ten more or so return for the Grand Opening.  An adoptive mommy friend of mine from online who I have known since before Matt came home showed up with her extended family, coming six hours to attend and offer support.  Our first customers were our kids' adopted grandparents who have loved on them with TONS of action over the year, and I even saved their first $20 bill from them to hang and frame, because who better to have received their first true sale from?

As we were loving others, we were being faithfully, truly loved on, too.

Our space is so limited, with just those three wood burned tables and some benches outside, but I had forgotten that close proximity breeds relationship.  Strangers laughing and visiting with other strangers as they sat around our tight little corner.  Many old friends from Montrose showed up and hung around to catch up, to offer their encouragement, to share a scoop or a slice.  And the warmth was hanging over all of us, glowing with the knowledge that we are all connected in ways that we can't always name, that strangers are simply new friends in the making, and that the human heart desperately needs those connections, whether hindered by the ability to easily express emotion, by speech issues, or lack of motor skills, we all need community to feel whole.

And new friends we made indeed!  Here are a few of the incredibly positive reviews we have received on our Facebook page:

"We just returned from dinner. First off, the staff was so friendly and greeted us upon entering. I loved the homey, bright decor. We custom built our pizza and it came to our table looking and smelling delicious! The sausage and bacon were so good as was the sauce! The slices were thick enough that two slices each was enough for each of us. We saved room for dessert and were not disappointed. Farr’s ice cream is wonderful! Great choice! We will definitely be back!"

"Not only is the food great but the staff is incredibly friendly this place is a shining beacon for for all abilities we will be back often!!!!"

"Great food, great teamwork, fun atmosphere! Everything about this place is amazing. The team did an awesome job with the soft opening, very friendly staff!

We will definitely make Buckaroos a regular stop for our family!"

"Amazing! Staff was very friendly and helpful. the pizza was ohhh so good and the ice cream is amazing! Warm, welcoming environment with lots of smiles and laughs."

This place is where awesome people are making a difference in the world. The pizza has an amazing s"auce and there are a wide variety of toppings available. This is a happy family restaurant. 👍"

"What a wonderful idea!!! Great pizza BEST ICE CREAM! Farrs from Utah!! Yummo!! And the staff all wonderful!!!! I can totally see them expanding quickly all over Colorado and other states!! What a great concept and flawless execution! Congrats to all those who put their heart and soul into this! You have a customer for LIFE!!"

"This place ROCKS!!! I was so impressed with how smooth everything seemed to be running considering it was their “soft opening!” I love everything about it. I loved the teamwork that I saw when my family and I were there. I love what this business stands for and I LOVED the pizza. It was amazing and the crust was soooo good. I’m so excited for Buckaroos and I pray blessing upon blessing for this whole establishment. We will definitely be back!!!"

Sitting here after the extremely busy weekend, resting my feet and legs after multiple 16 hour days, I am taking a moment to reflect back over the course of the past year.  What a hard, painful, difficult year it has been for me personally.  SO much happened alongside the planning for Buckaroos, and at times I wanted to cry it was so overwhelming.  I ended up sobbing in church this weekend after one of our dear friends got up and spoke from the heart about how our family has touched his life, and the life of our church.  I totally lost it.  His words meant so much to me, probably because it HAS been so hard, and yet somehow we have made it, and still love one another, and God is using us to provide a sacred space in the form of a little pizzeria to offer meaning and purpose.  All any of the seven of us want is to be "that place" for others, and we accomplished it.  Matt and Josh have helped so much, and filled in with emergency runs to Sam's Club an hour away, a reassuring shoulder to lean on, and much needed valuable labor.

From concept to business plan to marketing plan to VERY arduous physical work, we arrived at the finish line, only to see new horizons to race toward.  I kid you not, we had finished our first day when Kenny told me he had an idea to expand to a cleaning business to partner those with disabilities with others to clean houses and offices, and Olesya already has our game plan in mind to "move across state lines".  Hahaha!  So who is it that taught these kids to dream such big dreams???

God did.

There are many more who need employment and will struggle to find a safe place to learn. We already have 4 or 5 applications from people who want to work, who we simply don't have enough work for...yet.  Maybe God will continue to do something extraordinary here, using the Family God Built to do so, along with all those who love and encourage this crazy clan of ours.  Maybe there is more in the future, but for now we are all praying for continued increasing numbers of visitors so that we can make it.  We know we can't do it alone, and never have done anything alone.

As we gather round those three tiny tables, as we offer hugs and smiles and hope, I am reminded over and over again that this is NOT about us, this is not about the LaJoys, it is bigger, it is more important by far than we seven.  Singing in choir this Sunday, so bleary eyed and physically worn out, I was so moved by the lyrics of the chosen song, Love Grows Here.  The sermon and music aligned so beautifully with what we have tried to accomplish, and hopefully will continue to offer others. May we never, ever forget...

Love Grows Here
By Nancy Price

Take a look around you
Tell me what you see
People here to worship the Lord
Just like you and me
Some have come in gladness
Some have come with fear
But all have come because they know that love grows here
Yes, love grows here
And all of us can share
the wonder and joy that it can bring
For God is near
Teaching us to care
And showing our hearts
How to sing
Some of us are lonely
Some have many friends
Some lives just beginning
Some are near the end
Yet we come together
Knowing he is near
Once again…

Love from our Pizza Guy...

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Beautiful Mystery

Our blog is titled, "The Family God Built", and as Kenny said this past week, Buckaroos is turning into "The Business God Built!"

The past couple of weeks have been extraordinary in so many ways.  It has also been exhausting, and we are all looking forward to the creation phase being done, and the running of Buckaroos "for real" to begin.  Since I last shared here, we have had two Soft Openings to practice and let all our employees become familiar with our business, we have held two employee training sessions, handled a gazillion small details, and generally all of us have been working 12-14 hour days. 

Our First Pizza to be Ordered!
All has not gone smoothly, as we are battling oven issues and are so grateful that we purchased a double conveyor oven as one is working and the other is not, and hasn't despite 6 or 7 visits from the commercial equipment repairman.  It is basically rebuilt now, and a repairman from Colorado Springs arrives tomorrow at a hefty price ($1200...ouch!) to work on it.  Poor Dominick has done everything possible to get it running, and yet his frustration is at a minimum.  It is such a neat experience to be married to someone since their youth and see their maturity over time.  The younger Dominick would not have handled this with as much aplomb as the more seasoned Dominick is.

I have been too tired to write, but also, if I am being honest, I have been unable to find the words to share what all has happened.  Deep emotion has swirled constantly, and nailing that down to talk about is proving difficult.  We have all vacillated from one moment to the next between confidence and fear, concern and excitement.  Thankfully, as we have joked, I am glad we aren't all in the valley at the same time!  Usually it is one of us, and it seems to rotate between us all.  This week it has been my turn, but a beautiful mystery unfolded today which served as affirmation for us all.

Today, our Pastor handed Angie a note, saying someone wanted us to receive it but wanted to remain anonymous.  Ang tucked it in her purse, and later when we were all in the car on our way home, she remembered it and pulled it out to open.  Inside the envelope was no note, just a cashier's check for...$5,000.00. 


We have no idea who to thank for this incredible generosity, which couldn't have come at a better time for me personally.  It was Thursday when I admitted I was growing a little scared about the debt, as we looked at more charges for oven repairs.  I had also made the call to allow a few of our special needs employees to come on in for the second Soft Opening, despite the fact that we really have no cash reserve to easily pay them.  A quick check in with everyone and we decided that it was important enough to go ahead and say "yes" to those who were so eager to return for another night of work.  It felt like the right thing to do, and we knew it would really matter to our employees. As Angie keeps reminding us, we need to make certain our mission is always first, and we all believe if we do that then somehow there will be enough to cover everything.  How our kids ended up with such an "abundance" mindset, I am not sure, but it permeates everything they all do, and it is a regular encouragement to me as well to keep my eye on the things that matter most. 

So here we were, a new major chunk needed to be spent tomorrow for the oven, and God shows up completely out of the blue through a gift from someone who will remain a beautiful mystery to us. 

I can't help but ask myself why this sort of goodness happens to us so frequently.  We are no more deserving than anyone else, and yet over and over again we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone's generosity.  We try our very best to give back in ways we can, and yet we could live three lifetimes or more and never be able to repay the kindness so many people have shown us in big ways, sometimes anonymously.  Trust me, our entire family never, ever takes it for granted.  Kenny said he hopes we never lose that sense of awe when good things happen that we felt today when the contents of the envelope was revealed.  We try to repay it in as many ways as we can find, but it is never the same as has been offered us because we simply don't have the means.  All we really have to offer up to others, and God, is our hearts and our time.  How I wish we could repay all we have been given!!  Down to the last LaJoy, we all feel a strong sense of responsibility to work our hardest so that any gift such as this isn't wasted.

But I will tell you it is very hard not to feel unworthy. 

Our Soft Openings have already taught us a lot, and here is what I have been thinking about over the past couple of weeks:

1)  The idea that we are somehow offering opportunity to "poor disabled people" couldn't be further from the truth.  What is so apparent is how much WE are being offered by our employees who Angie said today, "...feel like we have known them forever, even though we have only really worked together two or three times."  We have some very special relationships already forming, we have a wonderfully delightful staff which is comprised of two-thirds folks with special needs.  What we have been especially fortunate in is finding employees who all have a heart for this mission of Buckaroos, who have a unique kindness to them, and who are already proving themselves to be a wonderful supportive team where EVERYONE is equal, and some just need partnering. 

2)  Montrose is the best place in the world to live.  I know others might disagree, but our city is a little slice of heaven, and we have been encouraged by the social media comments and in-person conversations we have had.  A story shared about us by The Montrose Mirror on its Facebook page was viewed by over 15,000 people, and had 147 comments and 197 shares!  Many have reached out, whether we know them or not, with words of support and celebration that this sort of business will be in town, and pledges to support us with purchases.  How I hope that comes to fruition! 

3)  The dignity that comes from participating in meaningful work and having a work community of friends who know and accept you is something you must witness for yourself to understand.  The difference in confidence level and self-esteem was evident even from one Friday night to the next, enough that it was hard for me not to shed tears over what I was seeing...the eagerness to please, the nervous pride as family members came in to see their relative actually WORKING, the father who sobbed as he saw his son working to take pizzas out of the oven and cut them to place in boxes, the hugs as they walk in the door wearing their Buckaroos shirt with such obvious pleasure.  And NAME TAGS!!!  With their own name on it!!!  I never would have dreamed THAT would be such a huge deal, but it is.

4)  How fast one stops seeing "disability" and what remains is only "my friend" or "my co-worker" after you spend just a little bit of time interacting with someone.  Funny that I equate this with adoption, but in our case, our kids don't look or sound like us, and within days post adoption we literally forgot the world would be unable to easily view us as a family because of our differences.  I look at my Asian sons and I see our sons, Matt, Kenny and Josh.  Now, of COURSE I know we don't "match" but I don't see that from the outside, and we have all long since ceased seeing the differences, or hearing the differences such as with Olesya and Angela's strong Russian accents that have remained.  That is just how our daughters sound, we are used to it, and in our world it is normal.  So too, are our employees just who they are, no reservations, as we already have accepted whatever makes us different from one another and set that aside to see the human being that should be seen first, before any disability is seen. 

5)  People with cognitive or developmental delay are FAR more courageous than the world ever wants to give them credit for.  For some reason, we tend to apply that thinking to those who "overcome" physical disabilities, and we are dismissive as a society of those with differently functioning brains.  We seldom see them as being brave, we infantalize them, we talk over them rather than with them, we don't know what to do with them.  People with invisible disabilities face a world in which they will never fit, and they know it.  They are bullied regularly, are scared of the impatience they experience from others on a daily basis, and they tackle life with great hope when things are far more challenging for them than they ever are for the average person. 

In two heartbreaking conversations, I have already had to reassure two of our employees who approached me privately and haltingly said they were scared because they had been bullied or treated very rudely in the past.  I told them that no one was going to bully them or be unkind to them, and if they were, they would no longer be welcome in our store and we would protect them.  I was honest, saying that we might not be able to stop someone from saying something initially, but they would always have us to protect them the best we could. 

6)  Once you remove the fear of disappointing someone or making a mistake and being reprimanded for it, once you create a safe place for failure to be more about trial and error than an overblown crisis, it is fascinating to see what someone is willing to try...and fail at...and try again!  We can't become proficient at something that will take us tons of repetition if we aren't allowed the chance to fail multiple times and keep trying.  Friday night Angela dropped 3 pizzas at once from our countertop warmer, and later another employee dropped one learning how to take pizza out of the oven.  Ang and I talked about how glad we were that SHE was the one who dropped three and made a huge mess, because she knows it is safe to make a mistake and was able to model that understanding before our employee did the same thing, probably making it less uncomfortable.  We have had scoops of ice cream flung as those with coordination issues try diligently to master making a cone.  We will have many, many more learning experience that others might name as "mistakes", but to us, it is all part of the lengthy process of mastering something when it is difficult to us.  Our motto is not to catch people doing something wrong, but to catch them doing something right and build on that.  So many of our employees have experienced very little success or positive recognition in their lives from anyplace outside of their families.  Maybe we can change that a little :-)

There have been many little things that  have witnessed that touched me deeply, and as time goes in and I can breathe a bit I hope to share them here, for this is truly a new adventure and I can't wait to see what God has in store for us!  But I can't complete the blog post without sharing the single thing that has perhaps squeezed my heart more than anything else:

If there has been a "star" at all the past two Soft Opening evenings, it has been Josh.  At 16 years old, he has a compassion and patience that revealed itself in surprising new ways.  Within 10 minutes the first night, he had two or three special needs young adults at the prep table with him standing beside, guiding them, encouraging them, teaching them with a gentleness of spirit that was so very special to witness.  Never needing the spotlight, he has done SO much to assist his siblings, and presented a command of the kitchen instantly that had us all seeing him as more man than teenager.  He exuded a confidence that I think even he hadn't expected, as he is a natural at this and will be a leader in the business despite his age.  How I love all our kids, but these two nights Josh was a true shining light.  Whether it was jumping in to clean at the end of the night with no guidance, stepping back to let others try new skills and nurturing them toward competence, I couldn't have loved him more than seeing how kind he was.

We are currently living within a beautiful mystery, one that reveals itself slowly day by day.  What will our employees be able to do with the right support?  How can we grow the business effectively so we can ensure everyone keeps their job?  What does God want to happen here with Buckaroos??  Who offered such an astoundingly generous gift to us?

Are we going to make it?

We are giving it our all, each and every one of us.  If we don't make it, it surely won't be from a lack of effort.  It also won't be from a lack of care from others, as we are being carried in prayer by so many.  We were deeply touched that over 50 people from our church traveled a little over two hours round trip to come to our soft openings.  Talk about encouragement!!!  Talk about making us all feel very loved and cared for!!  Talk about seeing God in the faces of each and every one of them!!!  We can never say thank you enough, and it goes to show you how important showing up is.

The beautiful mystery remains, and grows with each passing day.  So much yet to discover, so much left to offer others of ourselves, so many new things to learn.  May we be paying careful attention to what presents itself, and may we never miss seeing God in our midst.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Thriving with Thrive!! Or...The Gift That Kept Us Going

The story of Buckaroos Slices and Scoops would not be complete without the inclusion of this very special episode, and it is part of the saga we kept quiet until this post.  It was the biggest surprise in this particular journey, and when times were tough, it affirmed for us that we must press on, that God had a plan for this whether we fully understood it or not at the time.

In March of this year, we attended the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.  We knew we wanted to serve pizza and ice cream, but we knew little else.  It is hard not to laugh now because we have come so far, but with kids like ours and their challenges, we knew it was imperative for the concept to move beyond the theoretical into the practical, and there is nothing better than the hands on approach for those with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, so off we went!  We had a list of things we knew we needed to begin ingredients, equipment, various business models, and a Point of Sale Cash Register System/Online Ordering System.

Spending two days wandering the exhibitor floor, the size of which was the equivalent of eight football fields, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed.  The sights, sounds and smells caused all of us to experience a fair amount of sensory overload!  Then there were the sales reps from many companies who were well trained in how to gently push interested parties, and how to create a sense of urgency which would push buyers to make choices they might regret later, once away from the energetic environment.

Aisle by aisle we traipsed through the arena, sampling, practicing saying "No, thank you" and gathering information for products we might ultimately be interested in.  Later on the first day, the kids took a break to attend educational seminars, and my best friend, Candi, and I began to approach some of the POS system vendors.  We knew this was going to be the biggest purchase outside of our pizza oven, and we also realized it was likely to be the most complicated item to consider.  The restaurant concept was intended to be handled as much by our three very young adults as possible, but with their disabilities, we knew they needed a computer-based system that would be as simple to operate as possible, because none of the kids are very adept at technology.  We also knew that if we were planning on living into the mission of our business and hiring others who also had cognitive disabilities or developmental delay, the selection of just the right POS system would make all the difference between success and failure.

As we approached a couple of vendors and tentatively explored their systems, we instantly felt more like we had walked onto a used car lot.  Slick salesmen with memorized pitches stalked us the moment we stepped into their booth, and they talked over us the entire time, never really listening to what our needs were as they were so intent on showing us all the bells and whistles their systems had.  After a few moments at each, we escaped as politely and quickly as we could, and were discouraged as we realized this might end up being the most difficult purchase we would have to make, and maybe NOTHING was going to work well for us.

Looking at our map, we headed toward yet another booth with Point of Sale Systems, steeling ourselves for what we assumed would be a repeat of the other unpleasant experiences.  The company's system was named Thrive POS from Granbury Solutions, and I groaned inwardly as their salesman zeroed in on us.  He introduced himself to us as Eddie LeBon, and within moments it was clear this would be a more comfortable encounter.  Eddie asked questions...and he was attentive to our responses.  Where others talked and "sold", he listened and offered suggestions.  When we explained what we were hoping to accomplish with Buckaroos Slices and Scoops, and that we were in need of a POS system that could be simplified as much as possible, he didn't disregard us and try to show us all the advanced properties of the system.  Instead, Eddie explained how it could be customized in many ways to offer a "cleaner" screen and that the data input was efficient and intuitive.  We grabbed his business card and a brochure, and with our guard now down a bit we told him we would return with the kids a little later to have them take a look.

About an hour later we arrived back at the Thrive POS booth, and we waited for Eddie to finish with another customer.  Can I tell you he won me over from the moment I saw the great respect with which Eddie treated the kids?  He took them seriously, he walked them through what the system had to offer slowly, step by step, and spoke directly to them as the business owners.  He had been prepped ahead of time about the kids' disabilities, and he spoke to their concerns about the complications of any POS system, gave them a brief hands-on tour of the program, and turned them loose to test it out.  Most importantly, he didn't talk down to them, and they felt empowered as they looked at something so costly but necessary.

Returning to the show the next day, we all hit every single other POS system company to compare their products to Thrive's system.  Let's just say the experience was less than desirable, and the dismissive attitudes with which the kids were treated was in stark contrast to how Eddie had dealt with them.  It was obvious they were being viewed as a waste of time, as sales people were eager to push them aside to deal with what they felt were "real " prospects.  Visiting the Thrive booth once again, we found Eddie and had decided to put a sizeable down payment on their system.  It was a perfect fit!  Kenny, who is our most tech challenged, had been able to walk right up to the screen and punch in an order with virtually no instruction, so we knew by that alone that we had a winning system with Thrive.  This was a BIG purchase, thousands of dollars being committed to, and we all felt the weight of the decision as we left Vegas, but we also were certain it was exactly what we needed and more user friendly than all the other systems we had tried.  We experienced no buyers remorse, but we knew we were now truly beginning to accrue real debt.

One morning about a week later, as we were gathered around the kitchen table working on our homeschool work, (which was really our business and marketing plans) my cell phone rang.  It was someone from Thrive asking if I had a few minutes to chat.  Assuming they needed more detailed information to get started on our system, I excused myself from the table and went into my office to talk.  I was then informed that I was on a conference call with several others in the room, which confused me as that felt a bit like overkill if they needed some of our basic beginning information, but hey, ok, I am fine with that! Haha!

What happened next made me weak in the knees.  They were calling to tell us that Eddie had shared our story with them, and they had all been touched by what we were hoping to accomplish.  They said they wanted to support us in our mission, and had made the astounding decision to give us the entire system, the terminals and printers we needed, the service we needed for installation, the online ordering, and a year's follow-up support at no cost.

For FREE.  Totally FREE.  As in, "We are going to return your down payment as well."

Then I was told, "We believe in you, and we think what you are doing is important."

I am never speechless; ask Dominick and the kids.  I know I must have sounded like a complete fool as I sat there dumbfounded, then stumbled to find the words to say how grateful we were and what an enormous surprise this was.  I was almost in tears, this was SO huge for us!

And you know what?  It wasn't only the cash value, though that was certainly a huge unexpected blessing.  What mattered most was that someone was taking us seriously, that this wasn't just a pipe dream of ours, and others wanted to invest in us despite the fact they didn't have a clue who we were.  In that single moment, we moved from "what if?' to "Oh, we are SO going to make this happen!" in a far more tangible way.

With them still on the phone, I went out to the kitchen to share with the kids what Thrive was going to do for us, and their hooting and hollering had to be heard all the way to Texas (where Thrive is based) even without the phone!!  Hanging up, I turned to the kids and said, "Whatever doubts we have had, God wants something to happen here and this is our big 2 x 4 so we need to really pay attention.  With this gift comes a ton of responsibility for us to live into our mission."  They all agreed, and were as stunned as I was in the moment.  We were all silent for a few minutes, shaking our heads, digesting what had just happened.

Then, we dug in and got to work.

As the months rolled by, as contractor delay upon contractor delay was experienced, as the inevitable road blocks rose up that happen with any major project, when we began to wonder if we were somehow "reading the signal" wrong and doubting whether we were really supposed to do this, all one of us had to do was bring up Thrive's generosity, and we all felt affirmed and were able to shake off the concerns.  And man, did we have them over and over again!  It was literally all we had to hang on to at times when things went awry, and credit card debt was mounting.

A couple months later, Thrive sent us their new Pizza Head shirts, and we wore them proudly (Josh, in particular, wore his Pizza Head shirt a LOT!) as we continued the challenging work of creating our special little place.

 This past week, Thrive sent their installer, Mike, to Montrose at no cost to us to install the system, and to spend three days training all of us.  We were super excited when the boxes arrived a few days before., was he patient!  How he put up with our family for three days, I have no idea! Haha!  Our menu had been programmed in prior to his arrival, and Matt and I had done some initial "back end" training with their distance trainer, Becca, who was equally patient and her experience in years past working with people who have disabilities surely helped as she customized our menu and embedded images, color coded items, etc. to make it as user friendly as possible.  Here is what a couple of our screens look like:

It was precisely what we needed, but dared not hope for!  Simple, clean, functional...and we were off and running with the training!

Sometimes, you just need someone to believe in you.  Boy, does our family understand that one!  Thrive gave us a gift that kept us going.  When everything felt hard, when we felt like this was maybe too much to take on, Thrive's belief in us made all the difference.

And now, as we have just completed the hiring process, we are passing that belief on to others.  As of yesterday, our staff will include SIXTEEN employees, almost all part-time, ten of whom have special challenges (including our three.)  As others have believed in us, so too shall we believe in others.  We will be working with a DYNAMITE crew of young people who all have a heart for service, are kind, respectful, and most importantly, need a chance to...well...thrive.  It has been a delight, and frankly a profoundly moving experience, to sit with people whose needs are rarely understood, who are seldom seen beyond their label, and who are moved to tears (and so are their moms!) when they hear they are hired.

"Can I take pictures of where I am going to work to show my friends?"
"All I want to do is make my mom and dad proud of me."
"I get a NAME TAG?" and then excited clapping follows :-)
Then there were the broad grins that slowly spread as each of them realized they were being hired.  All because someone believes in them, and doesn't expect them to be anything other than exactly who they are.  They will be understood, they will not be yelled at, they will not be made to feel stupid.

And maybe, if we do this well, we can offer the same gift that keeps them going, too.

Thank you, Thrive, for believing in us.  We promise you we will do whatever it takes to build on your faith in this mission of ours in this tiny little space.