‘Lotts’ of purpose in the Hansen’s Dairy creamery

February 16, 2023 8:58 am

By Meta Hemenway-Forbes, Hansen’s Dairy Marketing Manager

Jered Lotts crates heavy cream as it comes off the Hansen Dairy creamery production line. He’s joined by his paraeducator and job-site partner Sheila Swieter.

Four mornings a week, Jered Lotts works as a jack-of-all-trades in the Hansen’s Dairy Creamery. He loads milk and ice cream into crates as they come off our production line. He labels milk jugs and occasionally unloads trucks. With persistence and purpose, he stacks crates of butter ready for loading and distribution.

For Jered’s parents, Christa and Jeremy Lotts, their son’s work in the creamery is an answered prayer. 

Jered is tasked with placing labels and lids on butter containers.

“As parents this has been a worry of ours forever. There’s not a whole lot of options for Jered beyond graduation out of the school setting,” Christa said.

Jered, 19, has autism. He was diagnosed at around 3 years old.

“He had full speech until that point, then lost the ability to talk,” Christa explained. “He understands speech but can’t express needs or wants. Socially he struggles, but in the creamery he can interact in the ways he knows how and is accepted for who he is.”

Work experience

Jered is completing a senior-plus year at Dike-New Hartford High School under a relatively new program for students who need extra time to complete graduation requirements.

“He did the walk-through graduation; his IEP (Individualized Education Program) goals were not met so he’s doing a senior-plus year to gain some work experience because we lost a whole year during COVID,” his mom said.

Finding the right workplace fit for Jered was a worry, Christa noted. Jered requires a paraeducator to accompany him on the job to guide him in situations where he might experience social discomfort or sensory issues.

Creamery Manager Brad Hansen had heard about Jered and approached the Lotts family at a local event.

“He asked us if Jered would be willing to come and work with him in the creamery,” Christa said. “Prayers were answered. It’s a lot to take on, and for Brad to be willing to do that meant so much.”

Confidence boost

Sheila Swieter, Jered’s paraeducator and job-site partner, said working in the creamery has boosted Jered’s confidence.

“He’s very detailed. There’s no job he won’t put his all into,” she said, watching him crate gallons of milk. “It’s a really friendly, close-knit atmosphere. They have really made him feel like part of the team.”

“Jered is a hard worker and a good fit here. It feels good to be able to help someone in this way,” Brad said. “I was raised that if you’re in a position to help, you should.”

Other local businesses are helping too. Jered also works at the Runner’s Flat in Cedar Falls and will spend part of his final semester gaining work experience at Martin Bros., also in Cedar Falls.

“Family-owned businesses have the biggest hearts. They just go the extra mile to help him,” Christa noted.

Creamery Manager Brad Hansen takes Jered for a tractor ride.

Farm adventures

For Jered at Hansen’s Dairy, it’s certainly not all work and no play. Jered attended the Hansen employee holiday party.

“It was so nice for him to feel included as part of the staff,” his mom said.

Jered also went on a tractor ride with Brad around the farm.

“He was grinning ear to ear,” Swieter said.

Jered has spent time with the Hansen’s Dairy animals too, visiting the happy hoppers in the kangaroo pen and petting the dairy herd’s newest arrivals in the calf huts.

Christa had some initial reservations about Jered’s work in the creamery and adjacent cooler and freezer.

“Has some sensory needs, so one of my concerns was he’s going to have to wear a hat and pants and a coat and boots,” she said.

Finding purpose

Jered hasn’t had any issues with his work uniform. In fact, he’s excited to come to work. Although non-verbal, after a recent shift in the creamery he expressed his happiness to his mom and Sheila in two simple words: “ice cream.” 

Those words made his mom’s heart sing.

“We want him to have a purpose and a reason to get up and get going in the morning,” she said. “ Hansen’s allows that, and we’re just so thankful.”

Jered takes a break from his creamery duties to pet the kangaroos.

Jered greets a new member of the dairy herd.