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The man stands at the podium, proudly ready to speak.

An exuberant video announcing the renaming of The Kennedy Center, as The Kennedy Collective, is just finishing up, and the event crowd of more than two hundred – many of whom are well aware of the rebranding – nonetheless stand in open-jawed excitement, a non-conscious sea of smiles which seem to fully endorse the organization’s big news.

The event is a special get-together celebrating the seventy years of impact that The Kennedy Collective has made since Evelyn Kennedy – the mother of a boy with disabilities – refused to listen to her doctor’s recommendation to institutionalize him, and instead, began a revolution for how people who are “different” should be treated.

Now the man at the podium, President and CEO Rick Sebastian, does in fact speak – about Evelyn, about ensuring inclusion, and about a special person who exemplifies the impact that can be created in our world when we give people a chance.

On the two 80-inch screens flanking Sebastian, this video plays:

 

One-hundred forty-eight seconds since the video began, not a single eye in the packed house is dry. A near-deafening wave of applause washes over the room as, emerging from the shadows at the back of the pavilion, is Nevin Frank.

The man stands at the podium, proudly ready to speak.

Nevin is every bit of six feet, two inches tall. He is a natural conversationalist, although he doesn’t think so. Self-esteem is hard to come by when you’ve had the life-long challenges that Nevin has had, disabilities notwithstanding.

He sports a neatly manicured beard, collared shirt and khaki pants. He’s polite, pleasant, and smart.

It’s hard to think that someone with his presence would be nearly invisible to society.

Nevin lives in a multi-family unit in Bridgeport, Connecticut – where he shares an apartment space with his aunt, sister and toddler cousin.

I’ve been down so many times. I’ve been trying my best to get a job, and no one – I mean, no one – else give me a chance. Kennedy just give me the chance.

Nevin Frank pushing a pile of boxes in a warehouse.

Each weekday, Nevin takes public bus transportation to and from The Kennedy Collective warehouse facility where he is scheduled to work a 9:00am to 1:30pm shift.

Partly because of his incredible work ethic, and partly because of the immense responsibility to contribute to his family, Nevin often starts working at 8:00am, and extends his shift past 2:00pm.

The warehouse has many different social enterprises that workers support – a win-win which helps local businesses increase their output, while helping to diversify the revenue streams of The Kennedy Collective.

Garrett Broatch, the warehouse supervisor, considers Nevin a go-to employee for all kinds of tasks and assignments.

Ultraviolet engineering? Nevin can do it. Palletizing products? Nevin will handle. Shipping out mailers? Turn to Nevin. Constructing retail product displays that go into Walmarts around the country? Nevin. Furniture pickup and delivery for The Kennedy Collective thrift store? You know who.

Not only is Nevin cross-trained in a myriad of warehouse functions, but he also possesses the qualities that every employer covets.

“Nevin is very ambitious, dedicated, and wants to improve all the time,” says Broatch. “He takes his own initiative when he sees something that needs to be done, and will come look for more work when he completes his duties. In everything he does, Nevin is trustworthy and accurate.”

“I have supervised all sorts of people, and can say that some of our workers are the strongest, especially Nevin. There’s a stigma in hiring people with disabilities – that there will have to be way more training and supervision – but I do not find that to be the case.”

I consider myself lucky to get to work with Nevin every day. He’s had a positive effect on my life in more ways than just work.

Two men passing a box between each other in a warehouse.

Two days before the 70th anniversary event – despite knowing that he would be featured in some way – Nevin decided he wasn’t going to attend.

He wasn’t in a good frame of mind. Mom had recently passed, and it was still so painful. Plus, he thought, would anyone even notice if I’m not there? Or, if I am there?

Upon hearing that Nevin was declining the invite, Sebastian personally called him for a pep talk – and on the evening of the event, drove Nevin to and from the venue himself.

So here we are – the feature video about Nevin nearing the end, the entire room in tears, everyone cheering. Sebastian, sensing the gravity of the moment and wanting Nevin to enjoy the spotlight, guides him toward the mic.

The man stands at the podium, proudly ready to speak. And without a script, impromptu, Nevin Frank captures the attention of every single person in the audience:

 

As Nevin leaves the podium, he humbly waves to the captivated crowd, and tilts his head down to politely shake Sebastian’s hands.

It’s the kind of decorum that is usually part of a business executive’s “finishing school,” but it is simply part of Nevin’s natural grace.

The moment recalls a pointed message the warehouse supervisor has for businesses in considering people with disabilities a valuable labor resource:

“You’re not going to ‘find your Nevin’ if you aren’t willing to give everyone an even chance.”

With The Kennedy Collective, Nevin is finally getting a fighting chance. His dream job is to direct films – he believes he could bring fresh ideas to the stale superhero plots of many movies nowadays. No matter what the task at hand is, he loves working hard. Doing valuable things. Making people happy.

Nevin is off stage now, back into the crowd, happy but weary. He sees, literally and figuratively, the shadows that are everywhere – and all Nevin Frank wants is to stay out of them.

To stay in the light.

To be seen.

 

Digital painting of Nevin Frank with stars and colorful spotlights in the background.

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