What many loyal customers who stop by the convenience store don’t know is that over 100 years ago, Wawa was a dairy farm delivering milk to households in the suburbs and small towns around Philadelphia. Just over 50 years ago, when many people moved away from home milk delivery and started buying milk in stores, Wawa transformed to become one of the first convenience store chains — where people could stop to pick up milk, bread, candy and other items.
From the success of its first convenience store, Wawa expanded to open stores all over the Greater Philadelphia area, into neighboring states New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware and more recently into Virginia and Florida. In 2015, Forbes magazine ranked Wawa as 34th on its list of the largest private companies.
A Wawa staff person gifted her hat to a customer with autism who admired it…and has hopes for one day working at the store.
Many of the Wawa’s 750 stores are also gas stations, and throughout the company, Wawa employs 28,000 associates. Thirty-five years ago, managers in human resources first started to partner with local social service agencies that serve adults with disabilities, with the hopes of finding an untapped talent pool to join the expanding Wawa team.
One such agency, Eden Autism, based in Princeton, N.J., runs a vocational training program for adults with autism. In this program, Eden provides different types of employment training and placement, based on a person’s strengths and challenges: center-based employment, in which participants remain at Eden’s center and work there on projects; supported employment, in which participants work in the community under the supervision of a job coach; and competitive employment, in which participants are able to work independently with minimal supervision. Wawa has worked with Eden and many other similar agencies in both bringing in employees who need job coaches to support them and also with placing employees who are able to be more independent in roles that match their skills.
The results have been positive for the employees who are hired, for management, for Wawa customers, and for the team of employees in the store.
“We’ve hired countless numbers of associates with disabilities over the past 35 years,” says Gwendelyn Ruff, the company’s talent acquisition supervisor. “Today we currently have 296 associates with disabilities employed.”
One general manager shared about Shane, an associate who has disabilities. “Shane has taught us how to be positive in the most stressful of days, how to be kind and caring to one another, how a smile can warm up a room, and most importantly the value of having someone on your team that truly cares about its members and would do anything for you,” she explains. “I couldn’t be prouder to work for an organization that allows us the opportunity to make a difference in Shane’s life and him in ours.”