A History of Empowering People with Disabilities

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and it’s a cause that is near and dear to our hearts (and our triple bottom line business). Since 1997, we’ve partnered with Search, Inc – a Chicago-based non-profit – to support and inspire people with disabilities to live their fullest lives. Here’s a brief history on our long and fruitful friendship. 

1968 – Search, Inc. opens its first program for 8 kids with developmental disabilities in a Chicago suburb. It’s a grassroots movement started by parents advocating for the inclusion of their children into the public school system. Their vision is of a world where all people livelearnwork and play alongside one another, bringing their unique abilities to the community.

1972 – The Earth Child Emporium is established, Search’s first adult learning program for individuals at its school who are aging out of services.

1988 – Search opens it first supported Living Program, a home for residents in Chicago.

1995 – Horny Toad, now Toad&Co, opens its first store in downtown Telluride. Our HQ is Chicago where Gordon Seabury, Toad&Co CEO, meets John Lipscomb, Search President. They start hatching a plan.  

1996 – Search buys, renovates, furnishes and staffs 9 new homes for 56 individuals – all in a span of 6 months.

1997 – Toad&Co and Search link up to co-found Planet Access Company, a third-party logistics warehouse in Chicago that trains and employs adults with disabilities. The original concept was for Search clients to make camping pillows using fleece scraps from Toad’s production. This idea ultimately gives way to the Planet Access Company (PAC) warehouse. Toad becomes their first client.

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2000 – Visibility Arts established, a comprehensive visual arts program is launched to provide Search clients opportunities for self-expression, creativity and achievement.

2004 – Toad&Co and Search partner to launch Search for Adventure, a program to take individuals with developmental disabilities on their first outdoor adventure experiences. Trips are fully paid for and fully inclusive. The first trip is to Graceland in Memphis, TN.

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2008 – Visibility Arts moves into its flagship gallery and studio space in Mt. Prospect, Chicago.

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2010 – The Planet Access Co. Store opens in Lincoln Square in Chicago. It’s a retail store with a mission: 100% of the proceeds from purchases help over 500 people with disabilities live more independent lives. The store only carries brands that make sustainable and socially responsible clothing, jewelry and décor.

2012 – Search’s Hop on the Bus to Independence hosts their first free workshops to help people with disabilities build skills to independently and safely use public transportation.

2013 –  Search successfully merges with JJ’s List, a smaller grassroots organization. This expands Search’s opportunities for self-advocacy and disability awareness training. The plucky acting-turned-teaching troupe, the Disability Awareness Players, is formed.

2015 – PAC Warehouse upgrades into a new 63,000 sq. ft. space to house its growing enterprise. More brands, more units, more employees, more good. Each year the company generates over 20,000 hours of paid, train-to-work opportunities, allowing individuals with disabilities to earn a wage while they gain valuable work experience. 

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2016 – Visibility Arts expands again with the opening of a second studio space and gallery.

2017 – Toad&Co sends the inclusive Canoemobile around the US to connect 1000 adults with disabilities to various National Parks across the US for their first time.

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Our CEO Gordon and our Search, Inc. partners canoe through the Santa Barbara Harbor

 

2020 – As of today…

180 individuals live at 30 independent and supported residences throughout the Chicagoland area.

385 individuals have participated in training and paid work opportunities through PAC since 2003. 

500 individuals with developmental disabilities are thriving as members of Search, Inc.

700 people have gone on 104 Search for Adventure trips that have included hiking the historic Appalachian Trail, experiencing the majesty of the Grand Canyon, and riding the range at the Powderhorn Dude Ranch in Colorado.

4,500 students and adults with disabilities have built their public transportation skills.

11,000 people at more than 150 organizations have received a Disability Awareness Training for disability-aware customer service.

Millions of units shipped out of PAC warehouse (including 100% of Toad&Co’s inventory!).

Every Toad&Co purchase contributes to a bright future for adults with disabilities. Thank you for being part of this movement – more to come in 2020 and beyond!

 

Meet Sarah: Toad’s Master of Giving

When you count Jane Goodall as one of your high school mentors, you know you’re destined for a life of goodness. Lucky for us that’s Sarah Palladino, our Office Culture Queen and Master of Giving. Since she embodies the spirit of giving year round, we sat down to talk about how giving actually makes businesses stronger, what’s on her book list, and what Dr. Jane Goodall is like in real life (yes, we feel starstruck just talking about it).

Toad: Ok, Sarah – you do a lot of things at Toad. Give us a rundown on your favorite thing: 

SP: The best part of my job is getting Toads connected to our social and environmental missions in hands-on ways. Whether it’s planting trees or volunteering at Earth Day or hosting a Friendsgiving with members of Search, Inc, I love seeing Toads really feel the impact of “business for good.”

Toad: Feel it?

SP: Ya. It’s one thing to hear “we’re a sustainable company,” but when employees are planting trees to offset carbon emissions, they’re really feeling what it takes to offset one shirt or one factory or one cargo ship. That impact has a massive ripple effect well beyond 9-5.

Toad: Do you think it also has an effect on the business?

SP: Absolutely! I can tell you it makes a huge difference on the HR side – being a business that prioritizes volunteer days and community outreach attracts like-minded people. Those like-minded people become Toads and in turn make us better.

Toad: What about our customers?

SP: Doing right by people and planet is the heart of the Toad ethos, and our customers are right there with us. I think they’re looking for companies that are doing good (like giving 1% back or making sustainable products) because THEY are doing good.  

Toad: It sounds like a movement…

SP: It totally is! The Do-Gooder Movement!

Toad: So where did this love of philanthropy come from?

SP: I think it started in middle school. I was always that kid with thousands of hours of community service. I just loved feeling like I was contributing to the greater good. My first experience working with at-risk youth made me realize that giving back needed to be ingrained in my life. After that I joined pretty much every club to help organize more people to give back.

Toad: Every club seems like a lot. Any favorites?

SP: I loved working with Dr. Jane Goodall as California’s chapter leader for her non-profit, Roots and Shoots.

Toad: Did you just say you worked with Jane Goodall?

SP: Yes, and she’s amazing. So inspiring. Her motivation behind everything she does is to foster a better understanding of nature, and thereby create a deeper connection between people and planet.

Toad: Wow. That sounds amazing.

SP: She’s my idol. It’s not just about animals and humans – it’s about equality. In Jane’s eyes, everyone and everything is equal. We’re all equal and we can all do good and impact the world.

Toad: What else do you draw inspiration from these days?

SP: I’m reading Becoming by Michelle Obama and she’s just a good human. I’m also really into this local lecture series right now where cross-disciplinarians talk about creative ways to think about problems and solutions, like an artist depicting climate change. Then there are always the classics like Silent Spring and The Lorax

Toad: Switching gears. Let’s say Toad wins the lotto and we (YOU) get to finally execute your giving pipe dream. What do you do?

SP: Commit 99% for the planet! I would love to start a whole education branch of Toad with the sole goal to inspire people to pursue environmentally friendly practices – the Toad Academy! I think we could have the biggest impact by investing in teaching future generations about sustainable lifestyles and communities and cultures… it would be amazing.

Toad: Okay, back to reality. What do you want your Toad legacy to be?

SP: My goal is to inspire Toads (whether it’s employees or customers) to look at how they can contribute to their communities and give back in areas that THEY love. I want to create a perpetuating cycle of giving back.