Three local employers were honored Wednesday for contributing to the good of the Napa Valley community by hiring and promoting employees with special needs.
Cakebread Cellars of Rutherford, Lixit Corp. of Napa and Vallerga's Markets of Napa were recognized for hiring practices that acknowledge the positive attributes that disabled individuals bring to the workplace.
At a Marriott Hotel breakfast ceremony hosted by the Napa Valley Mayors' Committee on Disabilities, videotaped testimonials produced by the Cybermill Clubhouse caused more than a few of the 200 attendees to shed tears.
Laurie Puzo, field representative for State Sen. Wesley Chesbro, broke down in tears while presenting an award to Ray Sercu, president of Vallerga's.
"You can always count on Vallerga's to be part of the community," she told Sercu.
"Ray is the quintessential citizen," Puzo said later. "He's so civil-minded and he sees the big picture. Where he sees a need, he steps up to it, and Vallerga's does that repeatedly.
"He's such a good example of someone who's really busy, but who takes the time to help in the larger community."
The point was emphasized repeatedly Wednesday: Hiring people with special needs does more than help the individual employee — it helps everyone in the Napa Valley.
"On a daily basis, they amaze us," said Glenn Keen of Lixit, an animal-care product manufacturing plant in Napa that hires several employees with special needs.
Lixit CEO Linda Parks credited Keen for expanding the company's disabled hiring program.
"This is a win-win situation for our corporation, our employees and our community as a whole," she said.
Cakebread Cellars' Trina Purcell was the star of a Cybermill video. She was praised by co-workers for her work ethic at the Rutherford winery.
"She's really delightful," said winery owner Jack Cakebread. "You can count on her, and everyone loves her."
"It's so much fun to work with people like Trina," said Angelique Ball, the winery's visitor center manager.
"This award," said vice president Dennis Cakebread, "should go to all the people who support the Trinas of the world."
Catherine Kelly-Baird, executive director of the California Governor's Committee for the Employment of the Disabled, told the gathering her state organization began in 1947 on behalf of disabled veterans.
Since then, the agency has concentrated on finding mentors with disabilities to act as role models. Progress also has been made moving public schools away from segregating students with special needs.
"The community of people with disabilities is getting larger, and the kinds of disabilities are changing.
"We all pay economically when someone who needs to work can't find it."
Helping them find work "makes sense for all of us — it's part of our natural experience."
Vallerga's has been hiring people with special needs since 1988, Sercu said.
"We found a niche for them in our family-oriented business. Most have been able to get off state and federal assistance," he added.
Vallerga's employees quoted in the videotape said many wonderful things about their co-workers:
"You can count on Hisa (Van Pelt) to come to work on time — she's never sick, she's dependable," said a fellow employee.
"Nick (Granado) is reliable, honest and part of the family," said another.
Angel Ochoa, who works in the deli section of the Imola Avenue store, said his job helps him feel important.
"I have more energy to do what I do," he tell the videographer.
"I love it at Vallerga's," said Kevin Van Koten, described as the Imola store's "right-hand maintenance man."
"It's a good job."
Napa Mayor Ed Henderson praised the organizations, their employees and the event organizers.
"You folks represent all that is good in our city," he said.