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Big Lots makes big difference

A Denton store is setting a great example with its training program for students and adults with disabilities.

The Denton Big Lots is the recipient of the state’s 2012 Lex Frieden Employment Award in the small employer category and will be recognized on Oct. 24 during a ceremony in Houston.

The annual employment awards were renamed after disability rights champion and independent living movement leader Lex Frieden, one of the architects of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, according to the awards program website.

Awards are given in several categories, including the Governor’s Trophy, the Entrepreneurship Award, Employer Awards and the Martha Arbuckle Award.

The awards are presented by the Governor’s Committee on People With Disabilities to recognize the efforts of employers that hire and retain employees with disabilities. They also recognize the best practices for employees with disabilities in the workplace.

The Denton Big Lots was chosen for the honor because “managers openly support the needs, diversity and opportunities for all employees and applicants,” according to the website.

Susan Shelton, an assistant manager at the store at 2249 S. Loop 288, told us that Big Lots has had its training program for three years.

The training program shows students how to price merchandise, work the cash register and put merchandise on the sales floor, Shelton said.

“We have them do a little bit of everything so they get used to being in a retail environment,” she said.

Local store officials decided to implement the training program after learning about similar programs and realizing that with Denton’s large student population, the store should have a program of its own.

Big Lots works with the Denton school district’s high school special education department and the University of North Texas’ summer youth program.

The Big Lots store is small enough and its employees are friendly and patient, Shelton said, which creates a welcoming environment for people with disabilities to learn about retail.

“It’s not difficult when they go into the actual work environment,” she told us.

There are other stores within the school district that offer similar programs, Shelton told us, and the award is a good way to encourage even more businesses to follow suit.

“It makes us really proud that we were nominated,” she said.

The store was nominated by Yvonne Raffini, a member of the Denton Mayor’s Committee on People With Disabilities.

We realize that Big Lots is not the only local store with programs designed to help students and adults with disabilities. Denton is lucky to have many employers who recognize the value of such programs.

They provide a valuable service to the community, and we salute them all.

But as Shelton said, recognition like this is a great way to encourage even more businesses to help, and we congratulate Big Lots for the caring attitude and initiative that led to this award.