Among my favorite moments in life are when I am taken by surprise and my faith in humanity is once again renewed. Such a moment occurred this year at NAWBO-Indy’s annual Trailblazers panel discussion. The panelists never disappoint and this event proves time and again as an inspiration to all in attendance. One can’t help walking out with a little skip in their step and the feeling that they are empowered – at least for the day!

How could a bird feeder and a dream transform so many lives? Since 1995, Jan Long, Owner of the Canary Company has been doing just that – providing meaningful work to over 100 workers with disabilities. Both Jan and her sister, Christina, built an innovative business model whereby “Mr. Canary” subcontracts their manufacturing and production work to a human services organization’s workshop in their hometown of Marion, Indiana. As Jan shared her story through a lens of gratitude and humor, the audience was clearly moved.

Bringing the story closer to home, a few years ago my niece came to visit from out-of-state for several weeks. The question was how to fill her time and have a great experience. A wonderful friend provided the answer as she offered an opportunity for my niece to volunteer at the non-profit where she was employed.

The first morning, my niece Lindsey, jumped out of bed like a gazelle and quickly dressed in anticipation of day one of her volunteering. Later that evening she could barely contain her excitement while recounting the day’s activities. During the balance of the visit, her enthusiasm soared with each passing day as she enjoyed all the people and every assignment given (no matter how great or small). You see, Lindsey was born with cerebral palsy. She is kind, courageous and has a real zest for life. It is my belief that most of us desire to have a purpose and be challenged by meaningful work while being surrounded by people who care and believe in us.

So, a special thanks to Jan and all those who provide employment, contribute in their own way and have a greater vision.