By Shen Wu Tan
“Ready…set…go!” Matthew Cochran yelled excitedly as he raced toward the entrance of his North Shore apartment. Eager to relax after a busy morning of deliveries, a wide grin stretched across his face as his plaid jacket flapped behind him.
For months, Cochran has successfully managed a Chicago-based vending and delivery business, YIKES! Beverages Where You Want Them, in spite of his developmental disability.
Every Tuesday morning, Cochran and his Clearbrook job coach, Colin Drozdoff, fill and stack a rolling cart with Coca-Cola products from the storage unit behind his apartment.
Next, they load a car trunk with a wide range of beverages – soda, tea, bottled water, and sport and energy drinks – and drive to various locations to stock vending machines and office break rooms.
Cochran’s love of soda, money and community involvement all spur his entrepreneurial motivation and spirit. Described as a social butterfly by Drozdoff, Cochran’s giddy, outgoing personality is infectious and “impossible to not smile” at. Eager to socialize, Cochran actively engages with community members through his YIKES! delivery business.
Cochran made his first delivery for YIKES! on Dec. 14, 2014. The company name was inspired by the beloved Scooby-Doo signature exclamation “Yikes!”
The 29-year-old, a graduate of New Trier High School’s special education program, started the business with the help of a microboard staffed by his friends and family.
Another key organization in Cochran’s business was Total Link 2 Community, which teamed up with the microboard to create a customized job for Cochran that built upon his skillset and interests.
Janice Weinstein, who founded the company with five other mothers in 2008, stressed the importance of customized employment for individuals with disabilities. So far, Total Link 2 Community has placed 38 people in customized positions, including Cochran.
“People see Matthew as an entrepreneur, as a trail blazer, as someone who has a valuable contribution to make,” Weinstein said.
“I think other families who do have a son or daughter with a disability will look at Matthew and say, ‘You know, well, of course he or she should work.’ Other people in the community are working.”
Prior to YIKES!, Cochran worked a couple of volunteering and part-time jobs. One of his prior jobs was a position at Home Depot, where he dropped boxes off at loading docks for deconstruction.
However, Elizabeth Drake, Cochran’s mother and microboard leader, became frustrated with these jobs that often fell through and wanted something more meaningful for her son.
Over a year has passed since YIKES! launched, and it is still going strong. And it’s not everyday you hear of someone with a developmental disability operating his own business.
Seeing Cochran manage his own business, Drake said she hopes people recognize not only her son’s success, but the self-fulfilling contributions individuals with disabilities can make.
“Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you can’t do something meaningful,” Drake said. “Anything he [Cochran] can do he should do because it gives him a sense of ownership. It gives him a sense of self-actualization. And I do think that does add to general contentment in life.”
Cochran currently delivers beverages one day a week. However, Drake said she hopes to eventually have Cochran working three to five days a week. But Cochran is a routine-oriented person and upping his work days will need to be a gradual process.
As of right now, Drake is grateful and proud of the progress her son has made so far.