More MS news articles for May 2003
Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 10:03:20 AM EST
By Mike Bassett
When Kevin Strel wheeled into Diane Lauer's office four years ago looking for a job, Lauer, the human resources manager at the Leominster Sears store, listened to Strel talk about his customer service philosophy and was "sold."
"He was exactly the kind of person we wanted working for Sears," Lauer said.
What sets Strel apart from his fellow employees -- other than an untiring commitment to the store's customers -- is his disability. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992, Strel has been in a wheelchair since 1995.
Because of recurring symptoms, Strel sometimes misses weeks of work at a time. Not only has Sears worked around these absences, it has reassigned to him to different duties to accommodate his disability -- at one point even lowering the height of the checkout counter to make it wheelchair accessible.
Now, Strel has paid back his employer for its loyalty. Active with the Central New England Chapter of the National MS Society, Strel this year contacted the society to nominate the Leominster Sears store as the 2002 Central New England MS Employer of the Year.
The MS Society, agreeing that Sears deserved the award, honored the company at a ceremony last month at the Four Points By Sheraton.
Store Manager Donna Dunn-Greenwood was inundated with citations, letters and proclamations from a variety of officials, including Gov. Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, U.S. Rep. John Olver, state Sen. Robert Antonioni and Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella. And Sears sent two executives from its company headquarters in Chicago to attend the ceremony.
"It was great recognition for the whole store," said Dunn-Greenwood. "And all the associates are extremely proud."
And so is Strel.
"I feel I've been given so much," he said. "It was an honor for me to nominate Sears."
While it was apparent to Sears' managers that Strel was a perfect fit for the company, his fellow employees weren't quite so sure at first.
Pat Kinsella was his first partner on the sales floor and remembers worrying "whether he would be able to do the job."
Her concerns were quickly put to rest.
"What he could do he gave 110 percent," she said. "And with his attitude, what he couldn't do you didn't mind helping him."
Through the years that attitude has had an impact that has spread throughout the store.
"You can feel the change on the sales floor when Kevin's working," said Dunn-Greenwood. "And the customers love him. You can see them smiling when Kevin waits on them."
For his part, Strel believes he has found a home at Sears.
When he's forced to leave work for weeks at a time because of his illness, he regards each return to Sears as a homecoming.
"People will ask you, 'Are you OK? How have you been?'" Strel said, adding that these questions are sincere expressions of concern and not merely niceties.
"I do feel like I'm truly missed," he said. "These are lifetime friendships
that have been developed."
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