Coon Rapids Culver’s employee a ‘star worker’

Ben Newman works with such joy it’s contagious.

Always happy to serve, Ben Newman brings sundaes and a smile to the Knit Wits knitting group at Culver’s in Coon Rapids. Photo by Sue Austreng
Always happy to serve, Ben Newman brings sundaes and a smile to the Knit Wits knitting group at Culver’s in Coon Rapids. Photo by Sue Austreng

As server and bus boy at Culver’s in Coon Rapids for the past 11 years, Newman skips into the restaurant, eager to work and wearing a smile as broad as his shoulders.

“Ben carries such joy with him. He’s always got a spring in his step,” said Newman’s boss, Jim Hannay.

While Newman’s joy is obvious, his disability is not. You see, the 31-year-old lives with autism and a learning disability, but there’s no room for sadness or anger in Newman’s life.

“He’s just got a natural joy and peace. I wish I could bring that to all my employees,” said Hannay as Newman delivered ice cream sundaes to a group of knitters meeting at Culver’s for their weekly get-together Oct. 29.

“He’s so sweet. He’s always smiling. We just love Ben,” said Yvonne Eyer, accepting chocolate sundaes from Newman.

Newman is served by Opportunity Partners in Coon Rapids, where he receives both residential services and job coaching.

Job coach Jennifer Bjornson calls Newman a success story.

“Ben is not his disability. Ben is Ben,” said Hannay, agreeing with Bjornson’s description of Newman as a model employee.

Julie Peters, communication director for Opportunity Partners, said Newman is an example of what people with disabilities can do.

“Look at who they are and not what their disability is,” Peters said.

“People with disabilities can be really wonderful employees. Sure, they might need some coaching, some assistance.

“But look at what Ben brings here – he is a star employee at Culver’s, he does a great job, he’s developed relationships with many of the customers and they all love him.”

As for Newman, he loves his job and is happy to tell you that.

“I like helping my customers,” he said.

He then listed his various responsibilities at work.

“I open doors for people with walkers,” Newman said. “I deliver food out to cars. I fill the ice.”

Opportunity Partners

Opportunity Partners, a nonprofit organization serving 1,900 people annually, supports choices for people with disabilities through innovative services and strategic collaborations, assisting clients to live, learn and work.

Services offered include day training and habilitation as well as vocational services (which include vocational evaluation, job placement and development and job retention).

There are three types of employment Opportunity Partners helps people with disabilities to achieve: independent employment (the ultimate goal if people are able to achieve that level of independence); supported employment teams (a business contracts with Opportunity Partners for a supervised team that comes to their workplace); and contracted center-based employment (light packaging work done in an Opportunity Partners center, for example).

Opportunity Partners has placed 118 people with disabilities into independent employment positions so far in 2013, according to Peters.

“We provide vocational assessments, career training, job placement services, and ongoing support in the workplace,” Peters said.

“People gain experience and earn an income in the community at more than 250 local businesses or at one of our production facilities.”

To learn more about Opportunity Partners, visit

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]