True fulfillment comes from helping others. This has been said numerous times by those who help others on a daily basis, and this statement also holds true at The Summit Restaurant at Masthope who have hired a true gem.  Her name is Sydney Laabs and she is making great strides in proving that she is a genuine asset to a great establishment.

"Sydney has been employed by The Summit Restaurant at Masthope for about a year and half and is a valuable employee," says Summit Restaurant Food and Beverage Manager, Joe Gattuso, "When Sydney first started, she was a very shy person who barely said hello, but we saw a lot of potential in her."

Joe was not hesitant in the least to giving Sydney a chance as he is quite familiar with hiring individuals with different abilities. "I have been the manager at The Summit for over 10 years and we hired other employees with special needs that are still on our staff." says Joe.

Not only was Joe willing to give Sydney a chance, he has also given her the opportunity to earn independence in her position as a dishwasher.  In result this has made Sydney an asset to the restaurant and has given her lots of confidence

"She pretty much runs her area of operation as if she is the manager," says Joe, "She has gotten vocal, very confident in her position, and can handle quite a bit during her shift. Sydney is probably one of our most reliable and dependable employees. For example, last year when we got the three-foot snow storm, Sydney and her mother stayed on property because they knew driving was going to be horrific, so she wanted to stay, so other employees wouldn’t have to drive in the storm."

"The best thing I like about my job is washing the dishes," says Sydney, "Everyone is really nice and I feel like I've made a lot of friends." 

One aspect of Sydney’s job that is quite unique and enjoyable is working alongside her mom, Linda Utegg, who is the assistant manager at the Summit Restaurant.

“Sydney loves working here. She has made a lot of friends and has really come out of her shell a lot since she started,” says her mom. When asked what it has been like to work with her daughter, Linda says, “I try not to be mom and boss since I’m the assistant manager but I try to let Joe take care of those managerial things when she’s here.” Although there is the fine line between being a mom and manager, Linda says it is a wonderful experience having Sydney work with her.

“It’s awesome working together,” says Linda, “I work a lot of hours and we get to spend a lot of time together. She gets to see what I do and she can understand why I work as much I do. We can talk about work together and who we know. It’s nice to know the same people; a lot of kids don’t get to know the people your parents work with.” Linda also says they have both made many nice friendships and socialized outside of work. When asked if it was difficult to get Sydney to being this successful, Linda says, “It was not difficult to get to this point at all. Sydney was very shy at first but once she got to know everybody it brought her right out of her shell and it was nice to see that. After the first few weeks, she started to lift her head up and say hi to people. It’s been really nice to see that.”

Sydney also credits her good work ethic to getting her start at Honesdale High School with different job shadowing opportunities in her community.  Through job shadowing, she was able to experience real work experiences and develop multiple skills.

Sydney has had several opportunities over the years to gain many of her skills and she proves to be quite a busy lady even outside of work. In the nice weather, Sydney has volunteered at Billy's New Hope Barn in Honesdale, a farm for rescued farm animals. She is also a highly regarded photographer and has true a passion for this field.  Sydney works with staff from Community Vocational Services, Michelle Erbach, who you may know from Michelle Lee Photography.  Michelle has worked with Sydney to help her develop many of her skills in using a camera, editing, and even taking pictures at numerous events in the community.  Sydney officially serves as a staff photographer for Community Vocational Services.

“Sydney has come so far in her photography journey,” explains Michelle, “She started with one of my old

cameras and basically was just pointing and shooting but I saw that she had some raw talent. As I taught her

about her camera settings and how to work with different light conditions, I saw her confidence grow. 

Her natural "eye" and composition with her images are beautiful.  Sydney has shot many events with me where

we have donated our time for community causes and she has even been a second shooter for me at a wedding!

She definitely has an innate gift and I want people to appreciate and buy her art or hire her because she is good

and not because she is differently abled.”

"Michelle has taught me to do a lot on my own," says Sydney, "I love working with Michelle. She shows me how to edit and touch-up pictures. I also have my own camera, laptop, and other gear."

Sydney also works with her other staff, Samantha Cerra, through Community Vocational Services.  Samantha started working with Sydney in the fall of 2018 and they immediately developed a close connection.  Samantha provides a lot of guidance for socialization and exercise, all of which are essential for her to thrive in every aspect of her daily life.
"We love going to the gym where we go on the treadmill and shoot hoops to practice for Special Olympics basketball," says Samantha, "I like working with Sydney because she's fun and happy all the time.  We have a lot in common!"  The feeling is mutual with Sydney as well.  As Sydney says, "I like Sam because she lets me play my music in her car.  We listen to a lot of soundtracks and especially my favorite, Kelly Clarkson."

Sydney likes to stay active and positive through Special Olympics where she participates in basketball, track and field, and bocce.  She also holds several reputable titles such as former homecoming queen at Honesdale High School, winner of the Miss Amazing Pageant, and most recently held the title of prom queen at Tim Tebow's Night to Shine.

All of Sydney's activities relate to why she is such a success in all that she does especially at The Summit Restaurant.  Thanks to those who have given her a chance along the way, she has increased stamina and productivity, explored and developed her own interests, and most importantly she has high self-esteem and confidence in her own abilities.  Sydney has quite a fulfilling life through the help of those who truly care about her well-being.

"Having Sydney on our staff has opened our eyes to see how we can grow as an employer for all individuals with special needs," says Joe Gattuso, "This is going to sound cliché; however, Sydney brings a smile to every employee she interacts with, which is all of us. Sydney has flourished into an exemplary employee that we are fortunate to have on our staff. From where Sydney started, to where she is now, she has grown into an individual who makes decisions on her own, brings joy to her fellow co-workers, managers, and has gotten very chatty at times. I know that she will always have a position here at The Summit, as long as she wants one. She is a true dedicated employee. Having Sydney and other employees with special needs has made my staff and I grow and become better. We always look to see how we can pay it forward by hiring more employees with special needs and let them know that everyone deserves that same chance."

On behalf of Community Vocational Services, I would like to thank Joe Gattuso and the entire staff at The Summit Restaurant at Masthope for giving such a wonderful experience to a well-deserving young lady and also to many of our students and adult clientele who are given the opportunity to shadow in their kitchen.  

I encourage all businesses to look at the Summit Restaurant at Masthope as an example of how hiring employees with special needs can be a proven asset to a business or an organization. When it is the right fit, you will not only get another employee.  You will get a loyal and dedicated individual who is ready, willing, and able to thrive at their position.  And that is beneficial for everyone!