The employees at this Kansas winery make it unique. Here's why.
GREAT BEND — Kansas-made wine is already an anomaly. But add to the mix growing specialty grapes, blackberries, and other fruit and teaching horticultural and wine-making techniques to people with developmental disabilities, so they can produce a strong and flavorful beverage that people across the country enjoy.
In a small vineyard, tucked away just outside of Great Bend, a special crop of workers, with guidance, are growing fruits, fermenting them and bottling the liquid.
Rosewood Winery providing skills for special needs workers
Rosewood Winery employs people with special needs to work on their vineyard in just about every stage of the operation.
In addition to working with grapes, they work with horses, put together and finish furniture, make soap and lotions, print and package goods, and help with flowers and vegetables, as well as perform farm duties.
"We want to offer many choices," said Eric Hammond, the ranch manager of Rosewood Services. "We're finding different niches for different folks."
According to Hammond, this is the only winery in the country designed to provide employment opportunities to people with developmental disabilities.
For more than two decades Hammond and his wife Tammy Hammond, the founder and executive director of Rosewood Services, have worked to find jobs for people with special needs. This non-profit company serves as a beacon for many in Kansas, hoping to provide a beautiful and ethical atmosphere for their workers to be in.
"Every location has a different quality to it," said Anna Hammond, Eric and Tammy Hammond's daughter and the business development director for Rosewood Services. "We figure out what they (the workers) want to work toward. They get to work toward the next step or the next level."
Daily process at the winery
Each day, workers are picked up by van and driven to their work location, be it the vineyard, the winery, the horse stable, the furniture workshop or the printing shop.
"I'm just an all-around type of guy," said Jim Wonsetler, who works at all areas of the enterprise. "I do a little bit of everything."
Because the winery is a teaching facility, the wine is made and processed in small batches, so the workers are able to accomplish specific skills. This also helps with quality control.
"It's all purposefully run," Eric Hammond said.
The location also maintains its own vehicles, lawnmowers and recycling areas. Each staff person can choose the area they feel most competent in. Once they learn the skill of either fixing or running equipment, they are able to become gainfully employed at locations outside of Rosewood.
"We look at it more inclusive for people with developmental disabilities," Eric Hammond said. "The hard part is not coming up with concepts; it's making it work and doing it well."
To beautify each location, bronzes are bought and placed throughout the grounds and special attention is placed on visual aesthetics and cleanliness. The Hammonds like to call the vineyard, greenhouses and stable, "ranch elegance."
"We made sure it (Rosewood Services) was quality," Eric Hammond said. "We want our clients to be represented by quality."
With residents moving to Great Bend from Hutchinson, Hays and Salina, Eric Hammond said, the work is available to anyone in the state who relocates.
"Other agencies are seeing that they have to step up the bar," said Michael Dawes, who works in public relations for Rosewood Services. Dawes saw firsthand, with a close family member, what the organization is doing to help inspire and make lives whole, using dignity as a model.
"There's a whole workforce of opportunities out there," he said. "They're able to find what matches their passion."
With more than 180 employees, the business is run with supervisors at each location, serving as mentors. One day a week, many of the workers are able to receive therapeutic horsemanship services. There is also a well-appointed dining area to eat lunch.
Along with the winery and ranch, Rosewood Services operates a wine cellar, furniture store, print shop and bargain bin store in downtown Great Bend. They sell the products that their employees handmake at each of their locations.
The plan at Rosewood is to treat every person with respect and to help them explore many life options in safe, nurturing and appropriately challenging environments.
"Every time we can work with the community to better the lives of those with developmental disabilities we do," Eric Hammond said. "We consider it (being a choice place to work) our success for everything we make."