As summer winds down, parents are juggling an entirely new set of back-to-school challenges this year — whether children are continuing to learn virtually from home or are physically returning to classrooms. With uncertainty around how long the pandemic may require continued sheltering in place and several businesses remaining closed or limited, many are struggling to balance their work with how they care for their families — particularly when they are unable to rely on the services and resources available before the pandemic. And in the case of caring for a family member with special needs, these obstacles can prove even more daunting.
Knowing that there are many Levi Strauss & Co. employees who have family members with special needs, LS&Co.’s newest Employee Resource Group (ERG) — Families with Disabilities — was born. The ERG seeks to create a community to help caregivers navigate the distinctive challenge of caring for a family member with special needs and balancing it with their career. Whether sharing information on LS&Co. programs to support caregiving or tips on not neglecting yourself when being so focused on the needs of others — the ERG is meant to be an open forum where employees can learn, share and build connections.
We talked to Marc Rosen, executive sponsor of the ERG, and ERG Co-Chair Lisa Nevin, who shared their personal stories and a little bit more about why they were inspired to start the ERG and how they hope to make an impact.
What was the inspiration behind starting a Families with Disabilities ERG at LS&Co.?
Marc: After going through the experience of having a son with autism and having many conversations with others who faced similar situations, I realized that there could be incredible power if we all helped each other. It’s so challenging navigating everything from schools to care options to resources available to help. I realized that many of us are facing the same situation and it’s helpful to share knowledge and resources as well as to provide emotional support.
Not that long ago, I found it difficult to share or talk about this at work. However, recently, I have found so many colleagues facing the same situation that it’s hugely supportive. I also realized recently when I was traveling with another one of our leaders that when we don’t talk about it, we are missing an opportunity to support each other. Upon learning we both had sons with autism, we immediately formed a bond and shared our experiences and had an instant connection of support. And, I realized that if we had not shared, we would have missed that opportunity.
Can you share a little bit about your experience having a family member with a disability?
Marc: My son Josh was diagnosed with autism when he was in first grade. We always knew that he struggled with social situations and that he learned differently from others. He has since graduated high school and is now attending a supportive college program. However, schools were our biggest challenge … it was incredibly difficult to find the right school for Josh as he doesn’t fit any of the “typical” autism descriptions. I think over time we explored almost every school in the Bay Area. Luckily, we eventually found the right place for him, but it was a really difficult experience that included a stint at a boarding school, which is probably the most difficult thing that we have gone through.
I remember during the school challenges coming to work and not knowing what the day would bring … not knowing if any of us would make it through the day as planned. And I needed flexibility to support him during that time.
Lisa: My youngest daughter Grace was born with Down syndrome. What I’ve learned as a parent is that it isn’t about your child with Down syndrome. It’s just about your child. You don’t think of her needs, you think of her potential. As you would any other child, you love her unconditionally and revel in her accomplishments. It may not be exactly what you expected, but it is still wonderful.
What’s been the biggest challenge — and blessing — of having a family member with a disability?
Marc: Overall, I can tell you that it’s made our family a lot closer. It’s definitely taught me to be more patient and to give up on thinking that we can control things … the day will go as the day will go and a random event could throw a wrench in the best-laid plans. It’s also important to recognize that it’s really important to take care of the whole family.
My daughter is 16 and is incredibly patient and understanding. But special needs can change things for the other kids in the family. We’ve learned it’s important to make sure that we are balancing our focus and attention as it’s easy to spend all of your parenting time helping and accommodating for the special need.
Lisa: One of the challenges is ensuring we get the best care for Grace. Being her advocate when sometimes you don’t know what to advocate for … this is where the ERG can step in and support parents and family members through different processes. Grace has blessed our lives in so many ways, one of which is we are now fully engaged and giving back within the Down syndrome community. I volunteer as a Regional Parent Lead for a nonprofit that celebrates babies with Down syndrome.
What is your vision for the ERG?
Lisa: I see this ERG being a community and a resource for parents and loved ones who care for people with disabilities. I learned early on there are so many avenues to navigate on this journey; to have help and company along the way is powerful, and comforting. It has been heartwarming to see the interest in the ERG so far. It’s amazing to think about the impact we can make by creating this group.
Marc: That we make it easier for every member to navigate the needs that they have, and we make sure that everyone has a network of people who are facing the same challenges to provide support. Plus, I’d like to really increase awareness of how common it is for parents to have special needs children. And, I think that one of the great things that we could do as a community is figure out how we can help make adults with special needs productive members of society. One of the big challenges we all face, as parents of special needs kids, is making sure that our kids find a place and a way, as they grow up, that makes their lives meaningful and gives them fulfillment. Leaders and companies can help with that.
Learn more about our Employee Resource Groups available at LS&Co.