When someone makes the leap from “vendor” to “family,” it’s apparent that something very special has occurred.

Howard Cohen, president of Clean Innovations, a Columbus, Ohio distributor, is a board member of ADD Employment Services (AES), a subsidiary of The Association for the Developmentally Disabled (Add), a non-profit organization also based in Columbus. AES is Add’s employment services program, and provides jobs for developmentally disabled adults.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” says Howard. “When I have the chance to visit with the families and friends of the AES employees, they tell me how great the program has been for their loved ones. It makes me feel like what I’m doing is really helping people to have a better place in the community.”

Howard’s involvement started about three years ago when AES became a client of his. Shortly into their supplier-client relationship, Howard’s personal interest in the organization became very apparent.

“To us, Howard started out as a vendor, but quickly became a mentor and a resource. Now we consider him ‘family,’” says Larry Worth, director of day array services at Add, and Howard’s first point of contact with the organization. “That is why we approached him to join our board.”

For Howard, working with AES was the perfect match.

“My involvement with AES allows me to combine my professional experience with my passion to create opportunities that are important to society,” says Howard. “It also represents my personal belief that it is better to give someone the skills to grow food, rather than just handing over the food."

AES creates businesses that hire large numbers of employees who do work such as cleaning, painting, document scanning, vending services and landscaping. In the three-and-a-half years AES has been in existence, it grew from an organization with two crews that employed eight people, to its current 23 crews and 210 people. The AES philosophy differs from other similar organizations in that its employees are paid minimum wage and work in teams, rather than earning piece rates in workshops, or working in one-off positions.

“In our first two-and-a-half years, AES paid  $1 million to people with developmental disabilities,” says Larry. “It took us just another 11 months to get to our second $1 million."

AES completed its five-year business plan in less than three years. Howard is currently helping to write a new plan as part of AES’ strategic planning committee.

“Folks like Howard change people’s lives and don’t even realize it,” says Larry. “Until they got a job with us, our employees lived their lives labeled as ‘people with developmental disabilities.’ Today, they are known as ‘painters’ or ‘carpet cleaners.’ They now have purpose, value and pride in what they do and who they are."