Meet Kerry Brennan Bertram- the CEO & daughter of Barbara Brennan, Founder of Stride, Inc.
Kerry’s mother Barbara started Stride in the early 1980s with a corporate mission to provide employment to adults with developmental delays. 40 years later, as Kerry leads the bandwagon, she believes that they are still the most diverse and inclusive workplace in the industry and their ‘special needs crew’ are the best colleagues a business owner could hope to have.
So how did it all start? She grew up in an idyllic, loving family with lots of freedom and an understanding that there are all sorts of people in the world, all deserving of opportunities. She had an older brother Joey who had a severe disability- “He had Hydrocephalus, which meant he never walked or talked and was blind. We lost Joey just before his 7th birthday. His life is the Stride, Inc. legacy, as we decide to be inclusive to all people regardless of their abilities. He took our family in a direction of advocacy for those who are differently-abled,” she says.
Stride Inc., is a nationally recognized business based in New Mexico for integrated employment of adults with Special Needs. As an employer of individuals with special needs, the company motivates and encourages all its employees to maximize their own personal and professional abilities. Kerry says, “We do this by selling office products. Our brands; Schneider Pens, QuickFit Binders, EasyFit, Primo, Aurora Casemade Products and Stride Write. Our products are strategically placed at office product retailers and online throughout the USA.”
According to her, there are two designations in their industry- Tier 1 and Tier 2. A Tier 2 vendor is a manufacturer who produces office products and sells to resellers who resell while promoting the diversity manufacturer. The 1st Tier is the avenue most corporations seek out when trying to meet diversity spend goals. Stride, Inc. embraces the 1st Tier side of the business and not only sells the products they manufacture but also provide service related to the complete needs that arise for office products. Thus, ‘Diverse Office Supply’, their ‘DBA’ was born, named Diverse because of its unique and diverse workforce.
Stride, Inc. has been focused on creating real work for those most likely to be unemployed, the disabled. “We have two people on staff who have a developmental delay and they have been working with us since the beginning 40 years now. Those individuals who have out-grown our organization are currently placed in jobs within our community. We also encourage other for-profit businesses to seek out workers from the developmentally delayed community,” she says.
As the world becomes more automated, Kerry and her team are preserving the kind of tasks that require handwork, assembly, packaging, kitting and labelling. She looks forward to hiring a dozen more young adults with special needs if she can find work for them.
Her venture also has its fair share of loyal customers- “Everyone loves what we do but not everyone puts their praise into action. The City of Albuquerque was our first big customer in our new DBA venture. Our Mayor made the bold decision to buy local and support our unique employees. We have won many awards over our 40-year history – the most recent one being the ARC of New Mexico Inclusive Employer Award. The New Mexico film industry has also been very supportive and we provide products to several productions filming in our state,” says Kerry.
Looking back at her life, she feels that her life has changed completely. She credits this to working with an inspirational group of individuals who do not let their developmental delays get in the way of working and belonging to a business that makes them feel proud, valued and loved.
She thinks that one must believe in themselves and in others. The person who works for us may not have the exact strengths and capabilities as we do. Kerry wants to world to understand that every person is capable and we must find out where their strengths lie and help them grow. Our business can surely be a better place if we include diverse personalities and abilities in our workforce.