In this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, host David Hirsch talks to Jose Valesco, a VP at SAP Software Solutions and director of the SAP Autism at Work Program. Jose has two children who are on the Autism spectrum and he strives to get people with autism and other special needs hired at SAP.
Find out why diversity and inclusion is fundamental to SAP’s mission: https://www.sap.com/corporate/en/company/diversity.html?video=d40f384d-507d-0010-87a3-c30de2ffd8ff
Jose Velasco: [00:00:00] Everyday they gave us something new and something inspiring and something wonderful because we can’t look at things like autism in a negative light. But to be honest, there’s so many wonderful blessings associated with that as well because they are different, and different in a way that our kids transformed the way that we were.
Tom Couch: That’s Jose Velasco, a VP at SAP, a software solutions company, and director of the SAP Autism at Work Program. Jose has two children who are on the autism spectrum, and he’s our guest on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Here’s our host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with [00:01:00] mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to Facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad.”
Tom Couch: So let’s listen in on this conversation between Jose Velasco and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with Jose Velasco of Austin, Texas, who is the father of two, a vice president at SAP, as well as the director of the SAP Autism at Work Program. Jose, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Jose Velasco: Thank you, David, for having me today.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Dea, have been married for 32 years and are the proud parents of two, both of which were on the autism spectrum. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely. I have an interesting upbringing. I was born in [00:02:00] Oakland, California to Mexican parents. Both of my parents resided in Monterey, Mexico. That’s part of the northern state of Nuevo Leon. And my father got a scholarship to attend UC Berkeley on a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship. During that time he was pursuing a PhD. And I would say that within a few months his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he felt that he needed to be a little closer to the family in Mexico. So he transferred to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where he finished his degree and one of my sisters was born there. At that time my parents had three kids. After that, the other three kids were born in various different parts of the country in Mexico.
David Hirsch: Okay. You have had an interesting background. So you were born in the US. And then you moved to Mexico.
Jose Velasco: That is correct. I was raised in Mexico. I attended high school and college. And when I graduated from college, I came to the US.
David Hirsch: [00:03:00] So let’s talk about your dad a little bit. Is your dad still alive?
Jose Velasco: No. He regretfully passed in 2001. He was a university professor for many, many years, and he’s one, if not THE hero in my life.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, sorry to hear that he passed away at such an early age, and it sounds like he was an inspiration. Well educated, was an educator for that matter. And I’m curious to know, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Jose Velasco: It was excellent. He was such an incredible educator, not only for students, but also for us at home. He came from a very humble background. He grew up in a small town in northern Mexico called Nueva Rosita in this northern state of Coahuila. And the highest level of education that they had in that town was sixth grade. So he had to move out of the home when he was in seventh grade to go and live with some relatives to continue his education. And [00:04:00] basically that’s how he started his solo journey. So he was always this inspirational figure for me. Always relentless, but always incredibly giving because one of his missions in life was to impact the lives of others positively. And he worked for 25 years in making the lives of people in the Mexican desert better by creating water harvesting systems for them.
David Hirsch: If I remember correctly, wasn’t he recognized by the president of Mexico for the work that he did?
Jose Velasco: Yes. In 1981, he received the greatest achievement or recognition of the country in sustainability for the work that he did in the Mexican desert by bringing water to poor people. Not only was the water a change agent in their lives, but also they learned about agriculture – he was an agricultural engineer – and how to grow crops out of nothing in the desert. So he [00:05:00] transformed some of these towns from being extremely poor to changing what he called the culture of water.
And then after that implementing this harvesting and agricultural techniques that would allow them to create products not only for self-consumption, but as he put it, to go to the highway and sell their canned goods and created a group economy in those small towns, a cooperative type of economy.
David Hirsch: Thanks for sharing. I’m wondering, is there an important lesson or takeaway, something that always comes to mind when you think about your dad?
Jose Velasco: He was an inspirational figure simply because of the example that he gave us of hard work and dedication and inspiring others and being a teacher. He went from being a kid from this very, very small town to being an advisor to the United Nations and it’s a journey that we find in our family and friends, a lot of inspiration on.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It sounds like he came from very humble beginnings, like you said, and made an [00:06:00] impact, right? Not only in your family, on the six of you, but in so many different ways and so many different communities. It’s something to be very proud about.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: So from what I remember you took a BS in computer science.
Jose Velasco: Yeah, actually I did get my undergraduate in computer science from Monterey Tech. And then I took some coursework towards a master’s degree at Texas State University, graduate studies in computer science. And then I finished a master’s degree in Technology Commercialization at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business.
David Hirsch: Outstanding. So where did your career take you after your education?
Jose Velasco: I started working for the US Federal Government for seven years, and that’s how I started my career. And then after that I went to private industry. I was part of the private sector working for great corporations like 3M and Motorola. And then after that I launched my own company. It was called Transport [00:07:00] Net. It was the first vertical transportation exchange on the internet, what we call right now a cloud solution or a cloud company.
And then after that, I think it was in 1995 approximately, 1994, that’s when my two kids were diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. And my wife and I realized that it was just not gonna be possible to sustain a new enterprise. We were in such a bad need of benefits for speech therapy and for things for the kids that I basically shut down the company and started looking for a job. My first priority was to find a company that would provide me benefits for my kids, particularly for speech therapy, and that’s how I started my career at SAP.
David Hirsch: So I’m sort of curious to know, how did you and Dea meet?
Jose Velasco: It was an interesting thing. Dea and I met when [00:08:00] we were in college and we were best friends for many years until I remember very clearly one day I took Dea to lunch to my parents’ house because she was a friend. And I remember asking my dad, can I borrow your car to give her a ride to the university because it’s really hot, Monterey gets really hot in the summer and she had to walk about a mile and a half. So he gave me the car. I jumped in the car and she got with me, of course, in the vehicle. And then my dad calls me from the house and says, can you come back for a second? So I get outta the car and I go and talk to dad and he said, I think that one day you’ll marry her. [David laughing] And I said, dad, she’s my friend. She’s not my girlfriend. Of course the guy saw something. I don’t know what it was, but he said I think that you’re gonna be married to her one of these days.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thanks for sharing. It seems like it’s an been an adventure since then.
Jose Velasco: Yes.[00:09:00]
David Hirsch: Let’s switch to special needs initially on a personal level, and then we’ll go beyond. How did the diagnosis come about and what was your first reaction?
Jose Velasco: The first thing is that we were here alone in the US. We had a lot of family in Mexico and I thought, gee, we really need our support network, our family, our friends. We had to make a decision on picking one versus the other at that time, whether we stayed here in the US and have access to these great services or going back to Mexico and basically have a lower level of services and interventions, but with the assistance of their family, being able to raise the kids in a loving environment.
So we opted for the first, we opted to [00:10:00] stay in the US. We decided to change our home language from Spanish to English, which was kind of an unnatural thing for us because we were Spanish native speakers, and because of the language development of the kids. The doctor told us it’s better for you to switch to one language.
And I thought, I mean we’re in the US. They are US citizens. I think it would be only fair for them to be English native speakers. And so we had to do a lot of those things early on, but we knew that the kids were intelligent and that they had capabilities and that it was a matter of providing them with a good environment for them to shine. Yeah, and that’s how we got started, David.
David Hirsch: Was there any other advice along those lines that you can look back now and say, that was really good advice that we got, that really helped us make sure that they were getting all the services that they needed?
Jose Velasco: I remember very [00:11:00] clearly the first day of school of my daughter. It was pre-K. And we went to drop her off at a classroom and I think that within an hour they called us back and they asked us to come and pick her up. They said that she couldn’t be there and we took her back. And then a couple of weeks passed by and we learned about a great teacher. Her name is Kelly Gloria. And we sent Elena, my daughter, to that classroom with Miss Kelly. And Elena was not able to speak very well and many autistic kids that are that age have more behavioral issues and tantrums, that’s what I’m trying to say, than other kids, or are perceived as tantrums because of their hypersensitivity to sounds and other things that bother them quite a bit.
And I remember very clearly that Miss Kelly called us back and she said, did you know that your daughter knows how to [00:12:00] read? And I said, how can you say that? She cannot speak very well. [David laughing] And she said, every time that I say a word that she recognizes, which is in some kind of sticker in the wall. You know how the educators, the kindergarten teachers are, they have all these different words like ‘house’ and ‘dog’ and ‘cat’. She would point to these different words. And now many years later, I realized that, she used to see it in my lap. And I would read her books, but I would use my finger to highlight every word that I was repeating to her. And she had this photographic memory, so she learned how to read by the picture of the words, not by the actual letters in the words.
David Hirsch: Okay.
Jose Velasco: And it was a completely different style but that gave us, David, an immense amount of hope that she was that bright. And that’s where the journey to try to find them the right place in life and in school and with friends and family really started for us.
David Hirsch: [00:13:00] That’s fabulous. Very inspirational. And you could look back on teachers like Miss Kelly and say those are the angels. If they weren’t there you might not know.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely. We had coaches, we had clergymen, we had Boy Scouts, counselors. They were part of the fabric of their upbringing.
David Hirsch: Yep. So not to focus on the negative, but just to be real about things. I’m wondering what were some of the bigger challenges that you encountered raising your two children?
Jose Velasco: I think that for them, every time that we went from one year to the next school year to the next, it was like starting all over again and telling the story again. And so that’s just the way that the system worked. And my wife Dea was a [choking up] real hero. She would not take no for an answer. She was in a very educated way or respectful way, of course, she [00:14:00] would always be there in procuring the absolutely best services.
David Hirsch: Well, you didn’t use the word advocate, but it sounds like she was one of these super advocates for your kids in so many different ways and making sure that they got the attention or services that they needed at the right time and right place.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: So was there a turning point where you can say, wow, we’ve gotten past what we thought was the most challenging aspects of this with either your son or your daughter?
Jose Velasco: Every day was like that. [David laughing] Every day they gave us something new and something inspiring and something wonderful because we can’t look at things like autism in a negative light. To be honest, there’s so many wonderful blessings associated with that as well, because they are different and different in a way that touched us. [00:15:00] Our kids transformed the way that we were. Very transparent, very innocent.
I do remember that one year my daughter was interested in martial arts and she had a gifted memory. So one of the things that was incredibly positive about the martial arts experience for her was that she memorized the movements, the katas in karate, very quickly. And very quickly the chief instructor would ask her to come to the front, Ms. Velasco, come to the front. So that’s when we started seeing that there were things that the discussion was not going in in spite of autism, but because of autism. And it completely changed and rewired us, my wife and I, on the incredible strengths that they had. Yes, of course there were challenges, but the incredible strengths that they had in the things that they could offer society.
David Hirsch: Yeah. What a great [00:16:00] learning to have in your home. And I’m wondering wasn’t your son a wrestler when he was in high school?
Jose Velasco: Yes. He actually joined the wrestling team with no experience whatsoever. There was a coach. Again, we’re talking about people that have transformed their lives. And Spike Fogle is the name of the coach that helped my son out. He was a new coach with a huge heart. And I remember that on day one I accompanied my son to have an interview with the coach. And Coach Fogle welcomed us and said, how can I help you? And I said my son is interested in becoming a wrestler. He was not particularly athletic. Had zero experience. Zero experience in wrestling. [both chuckling] And I remember that when I talked to the coach, I said, look, my son is on the autism spectrum and he has some developmental delays. And the coach pointed to a wrestler on the other side of the hall, of the gym. And it was a [00:17:00] kid in shorts, red shorts. I will always remember that. And he said, that kid is blind.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh!
Jose Velasco: And he didn’t know how to wrestle and he just won his first two matches. And he said if he can do it, your son can do it too. So my son went from losing every single match the first year, and the other parents would applaud, would cheer him. But everybody felt that he was a little bit behind, somewhat behind. It was gonna be a big uphill for him, but the coach continued to work with him. And then in the second year, my son asked me what do I need to do to get better? So I said, you need to go running. You need to lose a little bit of weight. You need to strengthen your body with weights and so on. And he followed by the “T” everything. At the next semester when he started his next year he won his first match and it was a very interesting [00:18:00] experience, David, because it was a multi high school tournament and everybody knew about him. So when he won, the gym went wild [David laughing] and it was an incredible moment for us. He completely continued to dedicate himself. Never missed a practice. He worked very hard and in his senior year, he was placed third in the district.
David Hirsch: Yeah. What an inspirational story. And I think it speaks to his character about setting his mind on something, setting some goals, working hard at those goals. And maybe that’s one of the things that he is inheriting from you, from Dea, and then from your dad and grandpas as well which is how important it is to have a strong work ethic and be very focused. So that’s very inspiring.
Jose Velasco: Thank you.
David Hirsch: I remember he was also not just in scouting. [00:19:00] I have very few regrets in my life ’cause I had this vision that both my boys were gonna be Eagle Scouts. And I got them into scouting from Cub Scouts and then the real world took over, right? They had all these other interests with sports and other after school activities, and girls. And it’s like, it wasn’t cool to stay in scouting. But your story is a little bit different. What was Jose’s experience with scouting?
Jose Velasco: I think it was one of the best things that ever happened to him because yeah, if my memory serves me well, there were about four kids that were on the autism spectrum at different times who were able to earn the rank of Eagle Scout in this troop. And my son worked very, very hard. He did earn his Eagle Scout and he turned in his last badge requirement… I think he needed 22 merit badges to get his Eagle Scout aside from his project. And his 22nd [00:20:00] badge he finished, I think it was 14, 16 hours before his 18th birthday.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Jose Velasco: So I remember that he needed to go into a swimming pool and jump in the water and use his pants as a flotation device by tying the ends of the legs together and blowing air into them. The thing was that this was in the middle of the winter. [David laughing] And if my memory serves me well, it must have been about 34 degrees when he did this. But he pulled it off. He pulled it off and he did an amazing project. It was a water harvesting system for his high school.
David Hirsch: Water! There’s water in your bloodlines.
Jose Velasco: It is.
David Hirsch: That’s wonderful. So let’s talk [00:21:00] about your experience with autism beyond your own personal experience. And one of the things I remember was that you’d been at SAP for a long time, and there was this seminal event or experience that you had, and I’m wondering if you can recount that, the beginning of your SAP at Work journey.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely. In 2013, I was working in what we call HANA Enterprise Cloud, which was one of our new efforts in the company and I was in a senior role. So I woke up that morning, as I always do, fire up my laptop, got a cup of coffee, my wife went to drop off the kids. And one of the first emails that I saw was this announcement of something called Autism at Work.
It was a time, David, when we were uncertain about the future. Our kids were transitioning from high [00:22:00] school into we did not know exactly what. And we were not sure what was gonna happen with their lives, whether they would be able to finish a post-secondary education or not, what kind of jobs they could get. And it was a time in which Dea and I would be waking up in the middle of the night just worried about the future. But the reality, and I came to the conclusion that the only thing that we could provide them was an education that would allow for self-determination and for independence. And the only way that you can achieve that is through the dignity of work.
And it was just an amazing moment because again, I opened up, fired up my email, and there was this announcement of a program called Autism at Work. Our diversity and inclusion function in the company, which is very progressive, had just determined that there will be a program to [00:23:00] hire a significant number, up to 1% of our workforce, would be represented by people who are autistic. Not as token jobs, but they were looking at it from a value perspective and trying to tap into the strengths of people that are neurodiverse.
Dea came home and I showed her the email and I was like, I have to get into this. I have to get into this somehow. And I was fortunate to have an incredible boss. His name is Helmut Glancer. And I reached out to Helmut and I knew him for many, many years. My kids at the time were, I don’t know, 18 years old or so, and he and I were peers when my kids were born. So he knew about their trajectory. And I said, Helmut, I wanna put my name in the hat. This is transformational for us. And he said, why don’t you contact the Chief Diversity Officer and see what they’re planning? So I contact [00:24:00] the Chief Diversity Officer and I got a very positive response saying, we would love to have you collaborate with us.
What happened immediately after that, my boss said you can have 30% of your time to get the program off the ground in the US. And within about six months when we were in the process of launching the program, David, I was contacted by one of our SAP board members. He was responsible for 28,000 people at SAP. And I had met this gentleman many years before when his staff was much smaller, about 80 people. And he had an affinity with the neurodiversity topic as well. So he and I had a conversation and he said, this is an incredible program. And he said, would you consider putting, basically, dedicating all of your time [00:25:00] to the Autism at Work Program? I talked to Dea and we both agreed that it was time to put our resources and our know-how and the things that we’d learned and try to get this thing off the ground. And basically that’s how I started my journey and SAP Autism at Work.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It’s not lost on me that, while you didn’t say this, I think maybe there was this leap of faith that you were taking. That you felt in your heart that this is something that if you didn’t do it, you might look back and regret not pursuing this. And it sounds like things have transpired in a way that you could not even have imagined from those early days back in 2013.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely. The program took off like a wildfire. We were vested in the success of it. And what happened over the next five years was the program evolved not only internally within SAP, it created an ecosystem. Today there’s [00:26:00] wonderful business leaders in companies like Microsoft, like Ernst & Young, like JP Morgan Chase, Dell, Johnson & Johnson. There’s so many companies out there that are either implementing or evaluating the implementation of these neurodiversity programs. So again, it’s grown from a mission of just providing talent for our company to a much, much broader one. We partner with organizations large and small. We exchange experiences with anybody who wants to exchange experiences. There’s a car wash in Florida that is called High Tide Car Wash, and 80% of their employees are autistic. 80%. And they’ve had an incredible success with their business because they’re tapping on the skills of people on the autism spectrum. That’s basically what we have seen. We have seen an ecosystem that [00:27:00] was created as a result of the Autism at Work Program being launched.
David Hirsch: I think I remember you telling me something about a summit that was the catalyst for all this.
Jose Velasco: Yes. I think that it was 2014 when I remember having 200 different conversations with 200 different people. Everybody was rowing in the same direction, had the same intention. There were people from academia, from K-12 education, from research, nonprofit organizations, people from the United Nations, people from government. Everybody wanted to be part of this ecosystem and creating opportunities for people on the autism spectrum. So we invited about 215 – I think it was 215 people, that’s the number – to have what we call the first Autism at Work Summit at SAP in 2014. And out of 215 invitations that we sent, David, we had [00:28:00] 213 people that showed up.
David Hirsch: [laughing] That’s incredible.
Jose Velasco: We had people from Cornell University. We had people from the Philadelphia Eagles. We had people from Ernst & Young. We had people from Microsoft, from Hewlett Packard. There were high schools. We thought, gee, this is something that makes sense.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It’s quite impressive. And I remember doing a little research or homework. SAP has 150 different nationalities of people that work for the company worldwide. And if my numbers are correct, there’s been 175 people that have benefited directly being hired by SAP, those that are in the Autism at Work program.
Jose Velasco: That is correct. We have approximately 175 today. But overall, we have provided close to 600 opportunities. And the reality after we talked to our colleagues on the spectrum was that, for example, they never had an opportunity during their high school [00:29:00] years or college years to get enterprise exposure. So we said let’s open up internships now. And then in some countries where we have a vocational program like we do in Germany, we extended the standard vocational training program, which allows a university student to work and study at the same time. Now it’s available for people on the autism spectrum as well.
And then we went from there to say what about high school students? So we opened two pilots, one in Palo Alto and one in Philadelphia, where we had a number of students on the autism spectrum, high school students that would come in once a month to learn about enterprise life. And there was one year in which we had 18 students, senior students. And out of 18, 18 actually either got a job or went to junior college or went to college or joined the military. But everybody did something after they wrapped up their high school [00:30:00] education. So that’s what we call the umbrella of opportunities.
Now, again, 600 of them, some of them more transient, some of them more permanent opportunities, but incredibly rewarding to see the results of this opportunity.
David Hirsch: Yeah. It is amazing what’s transpired in just the last six or seven years. And from what I remember, the retention rate of those that you’ve hired is extremely high, 90% or something like that.
Jose Velasco: Yes. We have a global retention rate that hovers around 92%. There’s gonna be countries like the US where we have a retention rate of about 97 plus percent. For us, when you look at business benefits associated with the program, we look at various different angles. One of the benefits is precisely retention. In an economy like we used to have a few months back where there was really a war for talent, securing talent for the long haul is incredibly important for us.
David Hirsch: Yeah. [00:31:00] Very impressive. Just one more thing. I think I remember reading that there’s a internal award called the Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award, which is the highest employee recognition at SAP. And for the first time, just last year in 2019, there was a young guy in Buenos Aires apparently that was the recipient of that award, which is not unusual except for the fact that it usually goes to teams, not individuals. He was one of the individuals that you hired as part of your Autism at Work Program.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely. It was an incredible and very inspiring story. You are correct, David. We have an award internally at SAP that is called the Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award, and it is the most prestigious innovators award that we have at the company. And I believe that there’s about 1800 entries from all around the world. And you are also correct in saying that in most cases the nominations are for teams [00:32:00] that have worked on something that represents that innovating spirit that we have in the company, being a high tech company, and the interest in making a difference. And this year one of the nomination was Nico. And Nico was the sole nominee in his category in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And he created an innovation in the finance and administration function that resulted in an incredible amount of efficiency introduced into his department and something that had the potential of being replicated to other countries as well. And he took it upon himself to learn a lot of the tools that he needed to use in order to provide this benefit to the company. So he received the award from both of our CEOs back then in Germany. There was an audience of, it’s hard for me to quantify it, but tens of thousands probably, I would say [00:33:00] that they were. And it’s a very interesting thing when you have this young, bright, autistic person, very inspiring, go out and receive this award from the CEOs of the company. And he was the sole winner of this award.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Thanks for sharing. So inspiring. So I’m thinking about advice now and I’m wondering under the banner of advice, if there’s any important takeaways that you would share with a parent or a dad for that matter when you’re helping a child reach his or her full potential.
Jose Velasco: Lots of love. I think that’s really what it amounts to. And providing them with their space. I think that’s an important thing. Recognizing the strengths is absolutely paramount in our case. I think that if we would have tried to mold the kids to a certain pathway, I think that would’ve been very challenging for us to see the results that we saw in our kids. My [00:34:00] daughter graduated from the number one university in her field in the United States, in clinical laboratory sciences. And my son is a student at the Austin Community College and he’s gonna get an associate’s degree in software testing. But again, it is their preferences, it is their strengths and playing to their strengths and giving them the space is absolutely paramount. Lots of love. Lots of love for sure.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Good pearls of wisdom. What I heard you say was love and then allowing them to be the person that they’re gonna be, not the person you want them to be.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: Great words of wisdom for any parent, not just parents raising a child with special needs. So I’m curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Jose Velasco: I think that if I can be a resource for anybody else who finds any type of need in my experience or where they can match their [00:35:00] desires to do certain things with something that I can help with, I’m out there. So I think it’s important for us to share a little bit of our journeys. And this is one of those ‘give to get’ things, to be quite honest. I find it extremely rewarding to share with people. And again, I believe that in some cases I get more than what I give.
David Hirsch: Yeah. We’re thrilled to have you. Thank you for being part of the team. So let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend, Dr. Lawrence Fung at Stanford University and Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast #99 for helping connect us.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely. I think that Lawrence is an incredible human being. We’ve grown to be great friends over the years. We share a lot of the same great traits in our children. And we’re part of the same journey for sure.
David Hirsch: Yeah I don’t usually do this, but I’m gonna mention one of our other dads, one of the very first dads – this would be [00:36:00] podcast interview #2 – a neighbor of mine, a longtime friend, Randy Lewis. Because the SAP story seems to very much mirror the Walgreens story. Totally different. But these two companies, SAP and Walgreens, I think of them as pioneers in the area of providing individuals with special needs real life work experiences, real wages, for not just the right thing to do, but it’s a good thing for business as well.
Jose Velasco: It’s interesting that you mentioned Randy. I consider him a great friend. I was introduced to Randy, I would say about three years ago by some mutual acquaintances, and we ended up being the last two people in a phone call. And I told Randy, you don’t know me and I just wanna spend five more minutes with you here and ask for your advice. And it was the first time that I talked to Randy Lewis. And we were going through some [00:37:00] challenging times in our program, in getting it off the ground and so on. And I told him, there’s days in which you wanna give up, but there’s something great at the end that you aspire to have implemented and it’s gonna benefit a lot of people. In that day he told me, Jose, if you go out, where are you? I said I am in my office and outside there’s a deck, so I described to him where I was. And he said, if you go outside and open those doors and listen in the wind, you will hear my son and I clapping for you.
David Hirsch: Wow.
Jose Velasco: And for somebody who you just met to tell you something like that, you realize that you are connecting with a completely different caliber of person. So I invited Randy to the last Autism at Work Summit to speak to our audience. And he came and flew [00:38:00] in and he was doing a wonderful presentation. And he showed a picture and shared the story of a young man that is on the autism spectrum that used to work for Walgreens. And after he finished his presentation, after Randy finished, I went to him and I told him, you are not gonna believe this, Randy, but this young man that you had here in your presentation went on from being an assembly line or assembly person in one of your distribution centers to participating in the SAP Autism at Work Enterprise Readiness Academy.
David Hirsch: That is an amazing story. Small world getting smaller every day, Jose.
Jose Velasco: And this young man went on to take a job elsewhere. He did not work for SAP, but he found… He came and he took the six-weeks training from SAP and then he found himself employed elsewhere in a professional setting. He became an accountant. So [00:39:00] imagine the journey of this person and the touch points that he had with people like Randy and myself. Just an absolutely unbelievable set of coincidences, if we wanna call them that.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I don’t believe in coincidences or miracles. I think it’s just God’s hand working behind the scenes and it’s just, like I said, very inspirational. So is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Jose Velasco: No, David, just want to thank you for your leadership and for making these things happen. These things don’t happen by themselves. We don’t connect. There’s a lot of people out there that would not be able to connect if it was not for a catalyst like yourself. And I’m just grateful that we had an opportunity to chat today and for me to share a little bit of my story. And just a big shout out to all the parents out there, all the dads out there that are, you know, trying to make a difference in their kids’ lives. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s very nice of you. It’s very humbling to hear you [00:40:00] say that. So if somebody wants to learn about the SAP Autism at Work program or to contact you, what would be the best way about doing that?
Jose Velasco: I think because the listeners are part of your audience, if there was anybody who was interested in reaching out would you be okay with them reaching out through you and maybe for you to share my email address with them?
David Hirsch: Sure, I’m happy to do that. We can also include the Autism at Work in the show notes so people can go to the website. That’s not a big secret.
Jose Velasco: Absolutely. Absolutely. So either way if you wanna share my email address with people as part of the rollout of the session, that’s perfectly okay. Absolutely.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Jose, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Jose is just one of the dads who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
[00:41:00] Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Please consider making a tax- deductible donation. I would really appreciate your support. Please also post a review on iTunes, share the podcast with family and friends and be sure to subscribe so you’ll get a reminder when each new episode is produced. Jose, thanks again.
Jose Velasco: Thank you, David. All the best to you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to The Dad to Dad Podcast, presented by the Special Fathers Network. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Go to [00:42:00] 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to Facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad.” Also, please be sure to register for the Special Fathers Network bi-weekly Zoom calls held on the first and third Tuesdays of every month. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stCenturyDads org.
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The Dad to Dad Podcast is produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks for listening.