Two Juneau residents to be honored for being disability, senior advocates

SAIL will present the awards in November

Two Juneau residents to be honored for being disability, senior advocates

Southeast Alaskan Independent Living (SAIL) announced Monday that two Juneau residents are being recognized for their outstanding work as advocates for seniors and the disabled at a yearly Nov. 2 award ceremony.

David Ottoson and Gale Vandor were named the 2019 Senior and Disability Advocates, recognized for their outstanding commitments to leadership and creating meaningful work opportunities in Juneau, said SAIL executive director Joan O’Keefe in a press release Monday.

“All of us are ‘differently abled’ but we capitalize on our strong points,” Vandor said in the press release. “Once people get the tools they need to go to work, they want to keep working.”

Vandor is a Juneau native, and served with the Alaska Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for nearly 30 years before retiring as division director, the release said. She’s been actively involved on the board of a number of nonprofits dedicated to helping folks with disabilities find worthy work.

A Virginia native, Ottson moved to Juneau in 1978 following the woman he would marry. Ottoson opened the original Rainbow Foods in 1980. Their current location in downtown Juneau up the street from the courthouse has been there since 2003. And since 1990, Ottoson and Rainbow Food have worked with REACH and other organizations to offer jobs to people with disabilities.

[Man-goes down for alleged fruit theft, high speed pursuit]

“It’s been at least 20 years we’ve had people with disabilities at Rainbow,” Ottoson said. “It started in the kitchen and it’s gone to other positions.”

Ottoson said they usually have about three-four employees with disabilities working at Rainbow Foods. A number of different agencies, REACH chief among them, will often partner with Rainbow Foods to find a good place for a person with a disability to work, Ottoson said. Ottoson cited Linda Curtis, a long-term employee of Rainbow Foods, with the decision to partner with organizations finding work for people with disabilities.

David Ottoson, owner of Rainbow Foods, talks about being named a 2019 Senior and Disability Advocate by Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. For about 20 years Rainbow Foods has been providing jobs for people with disabilities. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

David Ottoson, owner of Rainbow Foods, talks about being named a 2019 Senior and Disability Advocate by Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. For about 20 years Rainbow Foods has been providing jobs for people with disabilities. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

“There are a lot of jobs that are good for people with disabilities,” Ottoson said. “Some of our longest-serving employees are people with disabilities. Over the years, it became part of our DNA.”

Ottoson said that Andrea, a dishwasher at Rainbow Foods, has been there for nearly 20 years, and another employee, Gary Peterson, just retired after a 20 year career with them.

“I think it enriches the workplace to have different kinds of people, different ages of people working together,” Ottoson said. “And having meaningful work to do is good for anybody.”

Ottoson says that employees with disabilities work in different aspects of the store, depending on their abilities. Some function independently, and some work with a coach to help them to do the fiddlier aspects of their job.

Ottoson and Vandor will be recognized at a dinner held by SAIL on Nov. 2 at Centennial Hall. The dinner includes a masquerade and an auction. Tickets are still available.


• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.


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