Linda Halstead-Acharya | Columbus IGA owner Paul Matovich receives an award from Helen Duffey of the Career Guidance Center for his practice of hiring individuals with disabilitiesThe Billings Gazette | Posted: Monday, October 25, 2010

COLUMBUS — Paul Matovich doesn’t think he has done anything special. But some people do.

One of them is Bob Binstock, a 1995 graduate of Columbus High School, who works at Matovich’s Columbus IGA.

Binstock, 34, nearly lost his life in a truck accident several years back. What he did lose was years of memory and some brain function. Before the accident, the former football player owned a construction company that employed six people and earned him a six-figure income.

“I went from the best life in the world to nothing but debt, debt, debt,” Binstock said.

Binstock has made significant progress since the accident, but he still deals with limitations. With few employment options in Columbus, Binstock landed a job at the local IGA.

“I’ve known Paul like forever,” Binstock said, grinning broadly. “I enjoy it (job) a lot because it’s a job.”

Binstock is not the only one grateful to Matovich. He was recently recognized by the Career Guidance Center in Billings as an Outstanding Employer of People with Disabilities.

“He (Matovich) doesn’t just work with us,” said Helen Duffey, employment specialist with the Career Guidance Center. “He goes over and above.”

Whenever Duffey contacts Matovich about placing someone from Columbus, she often discovers that he’s one step ahead of her.

“He’s probably worked with them already and right up front he can tell me what their issue is,” she said.

With the economy in the doldrums, it’s particularly difficult for individuals with disabilities to find work. The task is even more challenging in small towns like Columbus. Duffey is particularly pleased when she finds an employer like Matovich.

“He understands and treats people like he’d want to be treated,” she said. “We can’t always find people like Paul.”

Over the decades that Matovich has run the local grocery — he started with his father, George, 35 years ago — he estimates he has hired 500 local kids. A few of them have dealt with disabilities.

“It gives these kids a purpose,” Matovich said. “If we can give them a reason to get up in the morning and have some self-worth, we’ve done something good.”

When Duffey contacted him about a spot for Binstock, Matovich was glad to give it a try. The job has been a good fit. Binstock shows up on time, ready to go. He also brings a bit of light to the morning crew, Matovich said.

Matovich understands that the individual must fit the job within the setting. He’s also well aware of the high-paced business environment that focuses on production and profit — particularly now. But he encourages other employers and even the public to take a breath, step back and rethink the equation.

“It could be any of our kids,” he said. “No one asks to have a brain injury. No one asks to have autism or Down syndrome. They all have feelings. They all have emotions. And they’re all dealing with themselves as well as the rest of humanity.”

Though Matovich has long known Binstock, who graduated with one of Matovich’s sons, he was unaware of Binstock’s need for a job until Duffey called. Through the Career Guidance Center, she can link employers to government programs, like the community-based assessment program, that facilitates the hiring process for both parties. The program pays the employee’s wages and workman’s compensation for a certain amount of time. It gives both the employer and employee a chance to see if it’ll work.

“If we can help with that training time, it gives them a foot in the door,” she said.

Matovich is impressed with the way the community, a private business and a government program can work together to provide opportunities for people.

There is no formula for success, he said, except perhaps an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings.

“We never know what’s around the corner,” he said. “Adaptability is key to life. People with disabilities know this better than anyone.”

Reprinted from: The Billings Gazette

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