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October 22, 2002

Meet the Jollibee Deaf Crew

From: Manila Times, Philippines
Oct. 22, 2002

By Marie Carisa U. Ordinario

At first glance, Raymond Ilagan, 21, and Bernie Villavelez, 35, are no different from the rest of the crew in Jollibee-Libis. But even if they wear the same uniform, perform the same tasks, and even beam the same smiles, Raymond and Bernie will always stand out in the crew.

Raymond and Bernie are only two of the 18 Deaf Crew of Jollibee, who are identified by a simple nameplate on their right chest saying “Deaf Crew.” As of now, Jollibee has nine branches, which have two Deaf crews each. These branches include Anonas-Kamias, Coronet, Sienna, Libis, Malinta, Valenzuela, A. Bonifacio, A. Mabini, and Robinsons Place Manila.

According to Jollibee Vice President for Human Resources Robert T. Poblete, employing Deaf crew-members is part of a 10-year program, started in 1997, which aims to give employment opportunities to the willing and qualified members of the deaf community.

“Most of (the deaf crewmembers) are from less privileged families who are also our main customer base. While it is, of course, not possible for us to help all of them, this program enables us to give back something in a meaningful way,” said Poblete.

It all started when Cromwell Umali, a deaf sales clerk in a clothes boutique, told a customer — who turned out to be Ethel Ramos, Aga Muhlach’s talent manager — that he wanted to give a toy donation to Jollibee’s “MaAGA ang Pasko” promotion in 1995.

Knowing that Muhlach was the product endorser of Jollibee and the brains behind the project, Ramos arranged for Umali to give his toy donation personally to Muhlach.

Two years after this brief meeting, Muhlach and Umali accidentally saw each other at a coffee shop in Quezon City. Muhlach, having been so moved by the gesture of the young man back in 1995, asked Umali to help in a bigger project that aims to give livelihood opportunities for poor but deserving deaf individuals.

Muhlach informed Jollibee’s management about the project and earned the nod of the company.

The Special Training, Employment, Advocacy and Management (STEAM) Foundation, Inc., a non-government organization, which aims to help the Deaf, was tapped for the project.

Fortunately, this was not a problem since the boutique where Umali worked is owned by the head of STEAM, Rose Vergara, a social worker and behavioral therapist, who has made it her vocation to improve the lives of the members of the Deaf community. In fact, she and her husband, who also works with STEAM, even prioritize hiring Deaf individuals for their store.

Vergara said that by giving proper training and providing an accurate evaluation of the Deaf applicants, the Deaf become capable of working as efficiently or more efficiently in a hearing workplace.

Likewise, with proper training and instruction, and crash courses in sign language and psychology, the hearing members of a workforce can also learn to work harmoniously with deaf co-workers.

According to Vergara, there are four phases in training and screening Deaf applicants. These are social preparation, social rehabilitation and awareness, family support, and evaluation of psychosocial and academic or intellectual evaluation.

She explained that these phases are necessary before the Deaf can fully and efficiently function in a hearing workplace like Jollibee, aside from fulfilling other employment requirements such as the National Bureau of Investigation clearance, Social Security Systems number, birth certificate, etc.

This is because, according to Vergara, there are Deaf applicants who may have an attitude problem caused by severe depression due to the inability of family members to communicate with them. This inability to communicate with the Deaf makes them feel misunderstood and may make them aloof.

A perfect example of a STEAM success story is Umali himself, who, after working as a sales clerk in Vergara’s boutique, went on to become a national trainer for STEAM while working full time as a member of the President’s staff in Malacañang.

“It’s not a simple employment. This is long-term because we are giving life to members of the Deaf community,” Vergara said.

Initially, there were 500 Deaf Crew Jollibee applicants who were screened by STEAM. The number was trimmed down to 50 and further trimmed down to 18 applicants, who eventually passed and are presently working in the company. However, there were only four deaf individuals, out of the 18, who eventually went on to become Deaf facilitators — Deaf individuals who train Deaf applicants.

“Before we started the process, we tested the program in (the Jollibee) España (branch), which was necessary for research and documentation — and it worked,” said Vergara.

However, it is not only the Deaf who benefit from the program, but even the company. According to Roger Palentinos, a manager in Jollibee-Libis, their Deaf crewmem-bers, Bernie and Raymond have become “ambassadors” to Deaf custo-mers, especially to deaf children, who always look for them whenever they visit the store.

“Yung mga bata, hinahanap na sila. They have become our ambassadors,” said Palentinos.

Furthermore, Palentinos added that their Deaf crew is sometimes even more efficient than their hearing crew.

“Hindi mo na sila kailangang sabihan. Bigla mo na lang makikita na pag-alis ng mga customer, nagpupunas na sila ng mesa, nagkukuskos na (You don’t have to tell them what to do. You’ll just see them wiping the tables as soon as the customers are done,)” said Palentinos.

Since the program is only halfway done, Poblete admits that there are still a lot of changes to be made, such as the improvement of their kitchen facilities to make it Deaf-friendly.

“For example, when you cook hamburgers, the alarm of the machine for cooking beef patties would be heard as a signal to flip the patties,” explained Poblete.

In the meantime, Jollibee’s Deaf crewmembers are assigned to the dining area, serving the customers and keeping the area clean.

“They are extremely motivated and their work output is outstanding. They are also well loved by the rest of the crew,” said Nanette Leuterio, branch manager of Jollibee-Libis.

Poblete also said that while it is true that employing Deaf individuals has an additional expense in terms of training and the improvement of facilities, the costs are nothing compared to the positive results of the effort. Poblete said that knowing that the company is able to reach out to less privileged individuals is already profit gained.

“We hoped to contribute to something that can be a source of both financial and social development,” explained Poblete.

“We hope to produce Deaf entrepreneurs and break the bond of silence,” concluded Vergara.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Manila Times