The Mohawk Valley Welcome Center, also known as the Lock 13 Thruway Rest Stop, sees tens of thousands of motorists come through its doors each year. It also serves as an incubator for small business; showcasing regional products and providing a vehicle to assist these small businesses to bring product to market locally and statewide.
In addition, through a contract with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and Amsterdam-based Liberty ARC, the Mohawk Valley Welcome Center employs 11 staff, including people with developmental disabilities, some of whom have been working at the Center since its opening in 2016, including John Minkler.
Susan Woodcock, Welcome Center Manager, says John and the rest of the Mohawk Valley Welcome Center team successfully assist customers each day by sharing their knowledge of the products available. Ag & Markets’ Taste NY program partners with more than 1,800 New York State farmers and producers; the products offered at welcome centers are rotated on a regular basis and include beverages, wrapped sandwiches, snacks and grocery items, such as maple syrup and jam.
John lets visitors know about the vendors who produce these products, local and statewide agritourism points of interest, travel attractions, and the rich history of the Mohawk Valley and Erie Canal. While these are some of the more exciting responsibilities, his other duties include receiving, stocking and cleaning.
“John has been at the Welcome Center since its inception six years ago, and he brings with him a wealth of knowledge in retail, public communication, and IT, just to name a few things,” Woodcock says. “John has unique customer service abilities. He is friendly and knowledgeable, quick with a joke.
“His tenure makes him a great asset to the Welcome Center in that he assists in training new staff and provides ongoing support in a professional manner. John is currently working towards facilitating the Welcome Center’s social media presence,” She adds.
“Working with John at the Welcome Center has meant a great deal to me,” Woodcock says. “I first met John 22 years ago when he was on summer break from the College of Saint Rose, and he was staying as a guest in Liberty’s residential program. I knew from the minute I met him that he would be successful at whatever vocation he desired. He was young and full of ideas and hope for his future.”
Woodcock says that John is well-known to customers and corporate partners who frequent the building, offers exceptional customer service and is skilled in many areas of the operation such as cash accounting of the vending operations, troubleshooting of machines and sharing travel tips.
“John is also a great advocate for himself and others with disabilities and is quite articulate in expressing what needs to be altered to improve his work environment,” she says.
“The job allows me to keep my communication skills sharp, and to meet people who are passing through. It has been interesting to meet some of the people that work in various areas and services for New York State,” he says.
“I am happy working and meeting new people from all areas and walks of life,” John adds, saying he is not looking to work anywhere else at this time. “However, opportunity can come knocking anytime, anywhere, therefore I am in the perfect place to meet it, head on.”