Blackbird Shopping Center in Medford committed to diversity and inclusion in hiring Vocational Rehabilitation clients


Tyler Quitt, General Manager of the Blackbird Shopping Center in Medford, says he learned to treat people with kindness from his parents.

Andrew Johnson said he likes working at Blackbird.

“They taught me to look at the personal aspects of someone’s life. I am more than happy to work with people if they want to change and be successful. I am all about that,” he said.

He takes that philosophy to work every day, where he believes in second chances. He is committed to hiring people with varying developmental disabilities, mental health disabilities, people with criminal backgrounds and people with drug addictions.

“Basically, we just want to give people a chance to succeed where no one else may be willing to,” he said.  

Blackbird’s commitment to employing people with disabilities earned the business the SRC’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Award during an August 2022 meeting.

Tyler Quitt, General manager of the Blackbird Shopping Center.

“Blackbird’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is certainly amongst the very best in the Rogue Valley and is an outstanding example of what this award truly means,” said Cheryl Timeus, the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor who nominated the business for the award.

The Blackbird Center, located at 1810 W. Main Street, is a family-owned business that started as an army surplus and outdoor store in 1965. Today it is an all-purpose place for hardware, automotive and marine equipment, home and garden supplies, outdoor sports gear, and even home brewing supplies.

Timeus said Blackbird has been an excellent partner with VR from the start.  

“They really take the time to teach the client the skills they need to do the job,” she said. “They also counsel them and don’t let issues build up. And they are so complimentary. Tyler sees beyond what they can’t do. He’s an amazing individual.”

Andrew Johnson, 35, is one of the Vocational Rehabilitation clients who is now working 15 hours a week at Blackbird. Johnson has a speech disability, which was a barrier for employment in some other businesses. VR worked with Britteny Asher Consulting to provide a communication device to speak for him to help in his job. VR also connected him with a speech and language pathologist he has used for the past 10 months.

Johnson has been working in the clothing and shoe areas of the store since early summer.

“I like working there. I get the best possible experience. My career goal is to continue to grow in my job,” he said.

He is also strengthening his fine motor skills by learning to fold shirts and hang up clothes. And he takes Valley Lift bus to work every day, which gives him more independence.

Another VR client, Brandon Shepherd, 24, has worked full time for the past six months at Blackbird in the hardware and hardwood area. He is living in a friend’s van and hopes to get enough of a tax return next year to rent an apartment with his friend, who owns the van.

“I’m just glad to work. I’m not picky,” he said.

Quitt has only good things to say of Shepherd’s work ethic so far.

“We’re getting great feedback from the team on the sales floor about this man. He continues to outperform himself each and every day,” he said.

Quitt noted not all arrangements work out. Recently Quitt said he let a former VR client go after two successful years working at Blackbird. A recent change in the person’s medication caused him to miss work on multiple occasions, have memory problems and exhibit some negative behaviors in the workplace.

But even then, Quitt left the door open for the person to return.  

“I told him once stable, we’ll have a spot for him. I have a personal connection to this man. I want to see success for him. We’ve seen some great success even from people who have moved on. I like that we’re a steppingstone for the next venture.”

About Author

Christine Decker is a Public Affairs Specialist for the Oregon Department of Human Services. Before working in communications she was a working journalist.

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