(Georgetown, MA) – Tommy Gravel, Wilbur Bruce and Jonathan Muldoon are an important crew at the Boston Polo Club and Equestrian Center in Georgetown, Massachusetts. As barn maintenance associates, they are responsible for the daily upkeep of the horse barn. From mucking stalls to watering the horses, their work is important; it’s the basis for the good health of the fourteen polo ponies and therapy horses that call the Boston Polo Club home.
As working colleagues, Tommy, Wilbur and Jonathan share a few things in common; a strong work ethic, a love of animals and a passion for keeping things neat and tidy. They also happen to be people with disabilities that have overcome barriers to employment.
“We don’t focus on the barriers or the disability, we focus on a person’s ability,” says Stacy Tofuri, Career Resource Specialist with Work Opportunities Unlimited. “Work Opportunities believes that all people can work; that competitive employment not only provides meaningful activity and personal resources, it also opens the door to allow the development of friendships and relationships. For many, work is fundamental to quality of life and key to a sense of self-worth. Just like everyone else, people with disabilities want to work, they want to be part of their community. We know this to be true and we don’t think it’s too much to ask.”
As a Career Resource Specialist, Tofuri dedicates her days to breaking down barriers and opening the doors to possibilities for people with disabilities and employers alike. She’s a master at preparing people for the workplace; she helps individuals develop job skills, helps her clients foster friendships and natural workplace supports, and she coaches them while on the job, but Tofuri is also a resource for employers. “We build reciprocal relationships with employers; they have employment needs and we have a skilled employee pool that wants to work.”
Perched on 78 acres of farmland in Georgetown, MA, Boston Polo Club is dedicated to introducing people to the sport of polo. Whether a novice with little to no experience, or an advanced equestrian, all are welcome. The facility also offers an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy program and Polo for Veterans.
“I was impressed that there was a program like Work Opportunities,” says Mark Tashjian, owner, head instructor and manager of Boston Polo Club. “I was looking for barn help and I thought it would be a good fit, as long as they could do the job. Tommy, Wilbur and Jonathan clean the stalls, fill the water buckets inside and out, they sweep, clean up outside and around property, they put hay in horse’s stalls for when they come in at night, they help unload hay and horse feed, they organize the barn; it’s a big job. These are the essential tasks that need to be done on a daily basis, for the overall care and well-being of the horses.”
The Boston Polo Club trio honed their skills by first volunteering at the Lowell Humane Society and Strong Water Farm. “A lot of people come to our program with no work experience at all,” says Tofuri, “which can make placement a bit more challenging because they have little experience in a work environment. Volunteering is a great way for people to learn and develop all types of work and social skills that will help them on the job.” From the volunteer experience, the three men quickly stepped into jobs at an equestrian center in Westford, MA.
“When they came here, I had to tweak what they did to accommodate our facility but I was pretty surprised by their skills; the guys are detail oriented and they’re on top of it,” says Tashjian. “I’ve been working with Tommy, Wilbur and Jonathan since the end of December and it’s been great. The fact that they’re dependable is one the biggest aspects. They do a good job; they may take a little longer but the quality is on par with everyone else. They’re focused on the job, they don’t get distracted, they’re not on their phones all the time, and best of all, their positive attitudes fit really well with my core values of living with a positive attitude, giving back and empowering people.”
“Tommy, Wilbur and Jonathan are committed workers who bring value to the Boston Polo Club,” says Tofuri. “They’re accomplished individuals who knock it out of the park every day. Their presence in the workplace helps fight the stigma that surrounds people with disabilities. They’re doing the exact same job and they’re doing it alongside everyone else – at Boston Polo club, nobody treats them differently, they’re held accountable, they’re just one of the guys and that’s the way it should be. Simply by having a job they’re engaged in their community and through that engagement they’re changing perspectives and changing attitudes which, when you think about it, is pretty powerful.”