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Out of the blue

Casual conversation leads to business owner hiring special education student

Dec. 28, 2009

2009 is a year that will likely be remembered by all, though not necessarily because of positive events or happy times. People lost jobs or had their wages cut. Retirement funds tanked along with the rest of the economy.

Things seemed bleak.

So imagine Nicolet High School teacher Kate Rinehart's surprise when Dan Eggers offered a job to one of her special education students.

"Dan struck up a conversation with me at an all-school golf outing at the end of the school year," Rinehart said.

Eggers, a Nicolet High School graduate, owns Eggers Imprints, which does silk screening and embroidery on all types of apparel and is located in Brown Deer. He started the business two years ago with one employee. He now has nine, including Drake Spence, a student in Rinehart's class.

Looking to help

"Sometimes the opportunities are not out there so I go out and get them," Eggers said of his job offer.

His mother, Pat Eggers, was a special education teacher in Brown Deer for many years.

"My mother instilled mutual respect for everyone," Eggers said.

His sister is also a special education teacher.

Drake, who is 20 and has autism, brought a resume and had an interview in order to get his job.

He started in the fall, first folding shirts as they came out of the silk screening machine.

"I hold him to a standard," Eggers said. Drake was a little slow at folding at first but that soon changed.

"I went back after a few weeks and he had done three separate types of shirts, folded them and separated them."

Drake has proved to be a quiet but quick study for other jobs as well.

Detail oriented

Earlier this month, production manager Jenny Parker taught him the use of another machine, one that uses heat to adhere letters to a shirt. Drake picked up the letters for the names of players on the Hutisford Falcons basketball team, lined them up on the back of a shirt and used the machine. Before long, the shirts were done, folded and placed in a box for delivery.

"He is amazing at quality control," Parker said. "He is awesome at catching detail and making sure things are correct. He catches things that sometimes others miss."

It stands to reason that his favorite job is related to quality control.

"I like catching the shirts and checking them," Drake said when asked his favorite task. Scrubbing the silk screen frames and mopping floors rank at the bottom of his favorites list.

Eggers encourages fun at work when there is time. An arcade type of basketball game provides opportunities for speed basketball during the day.

Drake works six hours a day, three days a week, and attends classes at Nicolet the other days of the week.

Away from work and school, he participates in several sports, basketball, volleyball and T-ball, through North Suburban Special Olympics. He likes movies, too. His most recent view was "New Moon."

"My best friend Dan and I like to act out scenes from movies," he said.

He got a taste of acting in eighth grade when his class presented "Get to Know Cinderella."

"I would like to do some acting again," Drake said.

Business ideas of his own

He also loves animals and has two dogs of his own. His first job, also through Nicolet, was at the Wisconsin Humane Society where as a volunteer he first cleaned windows but was later promoted to dog walker.

He has his dreams. Someday, Drake said, dog walking could become a little business for him.

For now, he enjoys his job and the people at Eggers Imprints.

"I didn't think it would be a small working place like it turned out to be but I like it," he said. "I like Dan (Eggers)."

Earlier in the month Eggers said the company had a Christmas party for employees, their families and customers. More than 100 people attended, including Drake, who brought his parents and wore the medal his volleyball team had won the day before at a competition.

He was the hit of the party, Eggers said, with guests wanting to see the medal and congratulate him on his accomplishment. He is an employee, Eggers allowed.

"He is also our friend," he said.

Mom Michelle drives Drake to and from work. Knowing the challenges that face everyone to a certain extent and handicapped people in particular when they seek employment, she thinks Drake's opportunity at Eggers is wonderful.

"It gives me such hope," she said.

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