Chuck Yenkner was nearing the end of his shift at Bob’s Discount Furniture in Southington, Connecticut when he made a stop in the breakroom.
He quickly unzipped the top pocket of his backup and pulled out a blue screwdriver.
“Mr. Screwdriver,” said Yenkner. “This was a Christmas gift from a friend.”
Chuck received the screwdriver as a gift from a former job coach with MARC, Inc.
“This helps me with the handles and the knobs,” explained Chuck.
With over 16 years of experience as a member of the cleaning crew at Bob’s in Southington, CT, Chuck has a well-deserved reputation as a hard-worker and he’s also earned a nickname that he’s very proud of – The Handle Doctor.
One of Chuck’s roles at Bob’s is to remove the small strips of plastic that mark the location of handles and knobs on furniture in the Outlet. He removes the plastic piece and secures the handles and knobs to the front of the furniture.
“I’m The Handle Doctor,” exclaimed Chuck.
Almost Two Decades of Experience
Chuck has worked at the Southington location for the past 16 years as part of a collaboration with MARC, Inc., based in Manchester, Connecticut. MARC, Inc., provides opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to lead meaningful lives of independence, choice, inclusion and continuous personal growth.
“Bob’s Discount Furniture is proud to employ a diverse workforce that is a representation of our customers,” said Joe Genduso, director, management development. “We are an inclusive environment that welcomes people of all backgrounds and abilities. Chuck is a hard worker, a dedicated employee and we are glad to have him as part of the Bob’s team.”
The oldest of three children, Chuck has down syndrome. He’s a loyal employee who works Monday-Friday as a member of Southington’s cleaning crew.
“This job is important to me,” said Chuck. “I make lots of good money here at Bob’s and the people are nice.”
“It’s hard work, but it’s my life.”
Evelyn Barnes, a job coach with MARC, Inc., said the work program gives Chuck and his colleagues a sense of independence and confidence.
“It gives him a good opportunity to show that just because they have a disability doesn’t mean that they have to be left behind and closed away from the environment,” said Barnes.
A Stickler for Details
With nearly two decades of experience, Chuck has developed a fluid daily routine at work. He knows exactly how long each task should take him and at what time in the morning he should be done with certain jobs.
The first task of his day is to mop the floor in the hallway between the showroom and the Outlet. After that, he heads over to the breakroom to mop the floor and empty trash. A quick check of his watch, while he’s finishing up in the breakroom, shows that he’s on schedule.
Chuck then empties the trash in the Outlet and puts new plastic bags in the trash cans.
“I always put them in the right way and nice and tight,” said Chuck.
Following a brief break, Chuck sweeps the floor in the Outlet before tackling his final task of the day – handles and knobs.
He walks around the rows of dressers and chests to remove the plastic tags and flip the handles and knobs from the inside of the doors to exterior-facing so the customers can use them.
Chuck is a member of the Glastonbury Special Olympics team. Nearly 30 years ago he joined the track team and since then he has competed in a sport every season. In the summer he continues to compete in track and now he also has picked up croquet. Chuck has also participated in unified softball. In the winter, he’s a member of the unified basketball team and the alpine skiing team
.In February of 2020, he competed in the Special Olympics Connecticut Winter Games at Powder Ridge in Middlefield, CT. Chuck won silver in the Alpine Advanced Giant Slalom.
Over 120 athletes from around the Nutmeg state competed in the games on Feb. 22 and 23 that included snowboarding and a variety of skiing activities.
“The athletes love these games,” said Michelle Zettergren, board chair, Special Olympics Connecticut. “It’s an opportunity for them to be part of something bigger. You can feel the camaraderie. You can feel the excitement. Our teams are proud, our athletes are proud regardless of where they land in the competition. They’re so happy just to be able to participate and compete and to be able to work with each other.”
In 2015, Chuck traveled to Los Angeles to compete in the Special Olympics World Games. He won a gold medal in the mini javelin, bronze in the 100M run and a ribbon in the 4x100M relay.
Tina Yenkner, Chuck’s mother, said Special Olympics has given her son a good sense of community and a big social circle of friends and family to spend time with.
“I think [Special Olympics] makes him feel good about himself and his accomplishments,” said Tina. “It provides him opportunities that he wouldn’t see otherwise in regular sports.”
A Sense of Confidence
I just had to include this quick story about Chuck that his mom shared as it really speaks to his character – plus it made me smile when I heard it :)!
Tina said when Chuck was in high school he attended a roundtable session with a guidance counselor and all the students were asked if they could change anything in their life, what would it be. As the discussion made its way around the group, students shared what they would change: one student wore glasses and said they didn’t want to wear glasses and another student said they didn’t want to have down syndrome.
And then it was Chuck’s turn.
“They came to Chuck and they said, ‘Chuck, what would you change’ and he said, ‘nothing’. It surprised me,” Tina recalled.
“He wears glasses, he’s down syndrome, none of those things seem to bother him. He’s pretty happy in his life and I think it’s everything that he gets to do that makes him that way. Special Olympics being a big part.”