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Carl's Story

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      Carl Drees stands beside a vending machine.

      Written by Rebecca Swainey, Braille Instructor, Orientation Center, Iowa Department for the Blind

      Carl Drees is an ambitious man with a tremendous amount of drive and energy. At a point when most people would say, “My plate’s pretty full, I think I’ll cut back”, Carl looks for opportunities to do more. But then what would you expect from a man born on the Fourth of July?

      Carl and his wife, Lori, are the parents of seven children, some of whom are now grown and others currently in high school. When the children were younger they lived in the small town of Ryan, Iowa where Carl owned and operated a bar restaurant. Carl was a Jack-of-all-trades; not only handling all the daily operations—stocking, food prep, customer service—but performing maintenance and janitorial duties as well. Lori helped out with the accounting, making the business a family affair. After about ten years the economy began to change and they noticed the business wasn’t meeting the family’s needs as well as it once did. They began looking for ways to change or expand. Maybe they could increase the restaurant end of the business or offer catering in the community. The local convenience store had recently closed; maybe they could expand their business to include that sort of operation. Exploring their options, Carl decided to contact the Iowa Department for the Blind to see what sort of assistance might be available.
      Carl was first referred to the Department in 1998. He has Leber’s Optic Atrophy, which has left him with no central and limited peripheral vision. He had received a little assistance with his business off and on over the years, but that was the extent of his interaction with the agency. He was aware of the Business Enterprise Program (BEP), but knew very little of how it worked. In 2008 he decided it was time to learn more about it.

      Along with his Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselor, Joe Weigel, he met with BEP Program Administrator, Roger Erpelding, to learn about the program and the options available to him. He was excited to learn that BEP vendors are independent businessmen running their own operations. The program provides training, vending sites and assistance with machines and their maintenance. When a BEP site has an opening for a manager or a new one becomes available, vendors bid on the opportunity for the location. Established BEP sites are in government buildings, along the interstates and in other such areas. In the meeting Carl asked if there were any vendors in the program with private locations. He learned there were several managers with such locations and was given examples of the types of sites they were managing.  Carl liked what he heard and decided to pursue becoming a BEP vendor.

      The one area he was not at all sure about was the requirement to attend the Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center in order to learn blindness skills, which would aid him on the job and, more to the point, help him develop a good, positive attitude about his blindness. He was a very busy, highly motivated man with a large family to support. He needed things to move quickly, not take what he perceived as unnecessary detours.  Nevertheless, this was a requirement and, as such, Carl set his mind to do it quickly and do it well. He entered the Center in October of 2008 and, with single-minded determination, completed his training in four months leaving at the end of February, 2009.

      Throughout training in both Orientation and the Business Enterprise Program, Carl kept his ears open for business opportunities. He considered and rejected keeping the bar in Ryan and commuting to his vending sites.  He thought of moving to other areas of the state when sites became available. However, before any final decision could be made he had to complete his training and internships. At last, that day came in the spring of 2009.  At the same time another vendor retired and sites opened up in the Des Moines area. Carl was ready.

      His first location would include the Wallace Building and other sites around the Capital Complex. He named the business “Reliable Vending” and has built a strong reputation of living up to the name. Through long hours and hard work he has expanded his business to include, among others, the Grimes Building, Workforce Development, the Department of Disability Services, Des Moines Police Department and City Hall, Mercy Capital, the City Armory, Fed Ex and, most recently, the West Des Moines Public School System.  Some of his sites were obtained by bidding on BEP locations. Others are private sites he’s personally developed.

      Life is not all business for Carl. He bikes and is making plans to ride in the 2012 RAGBRAI. He couldn’t be happier. He has a thriving business, a good home for his family, and a healthy, active life.