Sam Wagner, who has worked at Chase Dining Hall for a year and a half, was recently surprised with an honor directly from the chef — a set of knives.
But this wasn’t just any knife set. These knives were specially engraved with Wagner’s name. And to Wagner, who works in food preparation and as a pasta maker, this made him feel appreciated as a UNC employee.
Wagner said he was surprised as his co-workers gathered around him. Then, chef Hunter Stegall presented him with the set of engraved knives. Surrounded by his fellow employees, Stegall gave a short speech about his pride in having Wagner as an employee at Chase and the great effort that he puts into his work. After this, everyone celebrated.
This event occurred after Wagner came to Stegall and said he wanted to work to improve his cutting skills.
“After considering Sam’s progress and his enthusiasm, I felt it was time for Sam to have his own knife set,” Stegall said.
Wagner said he was overjoyed at the honor.
“I almost wanted to cry thinking about how much the staff and the chef appreciated me,” Wagner said.
Hearing about the event later, Wagner’s mother, Elizabeth Crais, felt the same.
“I just got tears in my eyes,” Crais, a professor in the UNC School of Medicine, said. “As a parent, it just warms your heart to see somebody recognize your child.”
Wagner began working at Chase Dining Hall through a vocational rehabilitation program at OE Enterprises. According to Carolina Dining Services, the organization provides job placement and training to those who have barriers to employment, including people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.
CDS partners individuals in the program with its culinary staff in order to receive coaching and training for certain jobs within the dining halls.
Despite facing some difficulties when he was first employed at Chase, Sam said he was grateful for the inclusivity from his fellow employees.
“People helped me along the way by showing me how to do things and patiently teaching me how,” Wagner said.
Crais said she feels that her son’s job with Carolina Dining Services and the recent honor he received embody the University's goal of being “for all kind.”
“It’s important to think about the members in our community who have disabilities, both children and adults, and figuring out ways for them to be bigger parts of the campus,” Crais said.
Carolina Dining Services works with multiple local programs that provide job placement and training, Patti Latimer, the marketing director at CDS, said.
“We have the opportunity to support the program and its employees’ success, while we benefit from the opportunity to learn from others and to be a more diverse and inclusive workplace,” Latimer said.
Overall, Wagner said this honor filled him with pride.
“I'm proud of myself as a person with a disability and appreciate their support for my hard work and dedication, and have enjoyed working with the staff and chef at Chase,” Wagner said.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the program that Carolina Dining Services hired Sam Wagner through. The story has been updated to include the correct program designation. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
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