Yankton’s Fox Stop owner Tracey Grotenhuis sees capability, rather than disability, when it comes to her employees.
This has been evident in her past hiring practices, and this year it has earned her the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Private Employer. This honor is given to a small, private employer for outstanding achievement in improving employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Grotenhuis will be recognized with the award at an official ceremony with Gov. Kristi Noem Sept. 15 in the Capitol Rotunda in Pierre.
The Fox Stop was nominated for the award by staff at Ability Building Services (ABS) Supported Employment, according the program’s supervisor, Jill Wermer.
Certified staff with Supported Employment Services offer their clients job training, job shadowing and job coaching as they seek to find the right employee-employer match for each individual.
Local communities nominate one employee and one employer. Winners are forwarded to Pierre for consideration for the state award, and Fox Stop won top honor, Wermer said.
“Grotenhuis is super receptive to supporting any of her employees — regardless of abilities — super open to communication if there’s ever any concerns or from either party,” Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP) Heather Budihas said. “She definitely does not see disability; she sees what abilities each person has; she’s not focused on what they don’t have.”
“In my previous job at the Summit Activities Center with the City of Yankton, I worked with ABS and we had a client of ABS come and work at the Summit, and we just had the best experience,” Grotenhuis said. “So, when I moved over to working in our own business, that was one of the first groups I reached out to.”
“Whenever Grotenhuis has an open position, she will contact Heather or someone in our department to fill that,” Jessine Dutcher, also a CESP at ABS, told the Press & Dakotan.
Grotenhuis runs Fox Stop’s operations and her husband, James, manages the financial side of the business. Fox Stop has one full-time employee. All other employees work part-time shifts, Grotenhuis said.
“It’s not always easy to find people to cover shifts because, with convenience stores, a lot of those hours aren’t ideal,” Grotenhuis said. “From what I have seen, employees from ABS are excited to work, come to work every day with a great attitude, and that’s not always easy to find in every employee.”
Grotenhuis hired two people through ABS when she first opened Fox Stop, and then hired a third, Kayla Kirchner about a year ago.
“Kayla’s terrific. She’s very hardworking, personable and the friendliest, sweetest person,” Grotenhuis said. “So it has been a very positive experience for us.”
Feedback from Fox Stop’s customers, as well as staff, has also been good.
“The first weekend that one of our part timers worked with Kayla, she said, ‘Oh my gosh, she is awesome. She’s a rock star! I’ve never seen anybody run around here so fast to get so much done’ — and that’s the truth,” Grotenhuis said.
“It’s nice to have a job that’s so supportive,” Kirchner told the Press & Dakotan. “When I need to take time off last minute, she’s understanding. She helps me keep busy and when I ask to learn to clean something new, she’s fine with that.”
The low-key environment and the flexibility it offers have also made for a good workplace environment, Kirchner said.
But, the benefits seem to work on both sides.
“We have gotten more out of the experience with our employees that have come to us through ABS than I’m sure they’ve gotten through us,” Grotenhuis said.