On October 24, 2014 Panera Bread and Independence Center (IC) teamed up to host a Lunch & Learn at Panera’s Baguette University learning facility at their Support Center, Panera’s St. Louis headquarters. Independence Center members candidly shared their personal testimony, information on how Independence Center serves our community and tips to combat stigma of mental illness.
Liz Dunlap, Panera’s Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer, started the presentation by stating that Panera is a “stigma free workplace where diversity and inclusion are intentionally embraced.” Liz shared that she first learned about Independence Center through Bill French, an IC Board Member, when she and her husband moved to St. Louis and located a home through Bill’s company, Wm. French Buyer’s Real Estate. Bill invited her to Independence Center’s annual gala, Dancing with the St. Louis Stars, where she first learned about the need for psychiatric services in St. Louis and the work IC is doing in the community. After touring the Clubhouse with staff and members, she was so impressed that she invited IC to deliver a presentation about our transitional employment program to her executive team. At the Lunch & Learn, Liz proudly told the audience that Panera has employed several Independence Center members in transitional employment opportunities at their Support Center for the past two years!
Independence Center members Steve and Crystalle delivered excellent presentations. Steve discussed his journey to recovery and how the support of Independence Center helped him find his dream job at the St. Louis Arch. Crystalle attributed the fact that she will be attending graduate school in the spring at Webster University’s School of Business to Independence Center’s dedication to assisting adults living with mental illness in pursuing their education.
“Language matters and shapes how we see the world,” Liz stated, and concluded the Lunch & Learn with some workplace tips on finding the right words to use if you meet and work with someone experiencing mental health issues. Panera values a collaborative workplace environment where both customers and employees feel comfortable and want to be there. They have a cultural value that states “NO JERKS” and it’s the value most remembered by Panera associates.
When asked what Panera’s experience has been like working with Independence Center members and staff, Liz replied, “Working with the staff and members of IC has been great! Whether it has been with IC placement managers like Amy Clinton that coach members on-site or hosting a Lunch & Learn with staff and members educate our associates about mental illness and creating a stigma-free workplace.”
At the end of the day, relationships are at the “heart” of Independence Center’s philosophy to restoring lives and Panera’s strong corporate culture. Everyone left that day feeling proud to be working together and promoting positive workplace standards. It was truly and inspirational day!